Human Rights Settlement Wins Hotel Visual Fire Alarms for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Guests



    TORONTO, Jan. 30 /CNW/ - The Ontario Human Rights Commission has reached
a settlement between the Days Hotel and Conference Centre, Toronto Airport
East and hotel guest Barbara Dodd. The settlement will see the establishment
of new fire safety practices for the hotel and sets a positive example for the
use of visual strobe light fire alarms for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing
individuals in Ontario hotel accommodations as an important practice to be
followed by the hospitality industry province-wide.
    Ms. Dodd, who is Deaf, stayed at the Days Hotel for a special event. In
the early morning, the fire alarm went off, unbeknownst to her and other deaf
guests. Although it was a false alarm, the hotel, like many other hotels, did
not have a visual fire alarm system in place to warn deaf patrons of a fire.
    The agreement will see the installation of a strobe light fire alarm
system in select locations of the hotel, including the lobby, restaurant,
swimming pool area, ballroom, public washrooms and four selected guest rooms.
Rooms equipped with visual fire warning devices will be reserved for people
identifying themselves as deaf or hard of hearing until all others rooms are
occupied.
    The hotel will also be developing and implementing policies and
procedures for safely accommodating visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing,
in consultation with the Commission, Ms. Dodd and expert advisors.
    "This settlement is a win-win for all concerned," stated Barbara Hall,
Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. "When the retrofit
is complete, the Days Hotel and Conference Centre can advertise itself as an
accessible destination for people who are deaf or have a hearing loss."
    "Fires can endanger lives. Visual and other types of fire signalling
devices are a necessity for many people and should not be considered
optional," Commissioner Hall added. "To ensure safety and accessibility for
everyone, all Ontario hotels should quickly follow suit."
    Industry associations applaud the settlement, which will support their
efforts to provide leadership and resources to their members to meet
accessibility requirements. Terry Mundell, President of the Greater Toronto
Hotel Association, points to the new Hospitality Accessibility Checklist
featured on the association Website, www.gtha.com, along with a comprehensive
list of resources, suppliers and products to ensure hotels provide safe
services to guests with disabilities. The checklist was developed with
assistance from the EnAbling Change Program of the Accessibility Directorate
of the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.
    "We're taking accessibility very seriously and will continue to provide
tools like the Checklist to help support our industry to increase hotel safety
and accessibility for all Ontarians," Mr. Mundell explained. "We encourage our
members to invest in a number of important measures to meet the needs of
people with disabilities as soon as possible, and ensuring fire safety is
paramount among them."
    Said Rob Evans, President of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel
Association, "We will be communicating the Commission settlement to our
membership with the view to encouraging them to provide similar measures on
their premises." Mr. Evans added, "As co-developers of the Hospitality
Accessibility Checklist, which is prominent on our Website, www.orhma.com,
accommodation for individuals with special needs, such as a hearing
disability, is a priority issue within our industry. This not only makes good
business sense but also ensures an enhanced, safe and comfortable stay for our
patrons with special needs."

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    Please see Backgrounder for more details.



    Backgrounder
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Human rights, Disability and Accessibility Issues Regarding Visual Fire
    Alarms for People who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

    The Human Rights Code, disability and accessibility

    The Ontario Human Rights Code has prohibited discrimination on the basis
of disability for 25 years. Persons with disabilities have the right to equal
treatment in accessing services such as those provided by restaurants, shops,
hotels, movie theatres and other public places. Businesses have an obligation
to make their facilities accessible. A failure to provide persons with
disabilities equal access to a facility or equal treatment in a service would
constitute discrimination under the Code and can be the subject of a human
rights complaint. A hotel would have to demonstrate, as a defence to such
discrimination, that providing access or accommodating services would amount
to undue hardship with regard to cost, outside sources of funding, or health
and safety.
    The OHRC's Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to
Accommodate make it clear that services and facilities must be built or
adapted to accommodate individuals with disabilities in a way that promotes
their integration and full participation. When constructing new buildings,
undertaking renovations, setting up new policies and procedures, and offering
new services, design choices should be made that do not create barriers for
persons with disabilities. Where barriers exist, whether physical, attitudinal
or systemic, organizations should actively identify and remove them. Where
immediate barrier removal would cause undue hardship, interim or next-best
measures should be put in place until more ideal solutions can be attained or
phased-in, where possible.

    The Need for Visual Fire Alarms

    The seriousness of provisions relating to fire safety is reflected in the
fact that between 100 and 200 people die from fire in Ontario each year.
According to the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS), almost 25 percent of adult
Canadians report having some hearing loss (CHS Awareness Survey 2002),
although closer to 10 percent of people actually identify themselves as
culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing. Health Canada
confirms that approximately 10 percent of the general population has a
significant hearing problem. Many seniors require visual fire alarms, whether
in seniors' buildings or in private dwellings. Statistics show that as many as
40 percent of our seniors are deaf or hard of hearing. According to Statistics
Canada, in 2001 there were 1.47 million Ontarians over age 65 with hearing
loss, expected to double by 2026. Also, at least 80 percent of the elderly in
nursing homes have impaired hearing.

    The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

    With the recent passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with
Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005, accessibility issues are now governed by
complementary aspects of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the AODA, the Ontario
Building Code and, in the case of existing buildings, the Ontario Fire Code.
    The AODA aims to make Ontario accessible to all people through the
development, implementation and enforcement of new accessibility standards for
goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures
and premises by 2025. Committees have been struck to develop standards in five
key areas, beginning with new accessible customer service regulations, which
came into force on January 1, 2008. A proposed transportation standard has now
received public comment, while committees developing the accessible
information and communications, built environment and employment standards
began meeting last year and will post drafts for public review within 18
months. Public bodies must continue to meet obligations under the Ontarians
with Disabilities Act, 2001 (until they are repealed and replaced by standards
under the new Act).
    The Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee will
consider access to, from and within buildings and outdoor street spaces,
including business, industrial and multi-residential occupancies, hotels,
motels, theatres, recreational facilities and transportation infrastructure,
in developing a standard geared to identify and remove barriers for persons
with a range of disabilities. It will build on existing domestic and
international legislative and regulatory frameworks and best practices,
including the Building Code and other AODA standards as well as public input,
and technical, economic and other factors.
    Although the AODA provisions have a phased-in timetable for
implementation, the Human Rights Code has primacy over other law, and failure
to provide for accessibility in the short term can result in a human rights
complaint. Even when enacted, new accessibility standards are still subject to
the primacy of Human Rights Code standards and requirements, which may be
higher. For details on the AODA, please see
www.mcss.gov.on.ca/accessibility/index.html.

    The Ontario Fire Code and Ontario Building Code

    Although the Building Code now requires visual fire alarms and emergency
notification systems in public hallways of most new buildings, such as arenas,
stadiums, hospitals, apartment dwellings, business offices and theatres, as
well as the seating areas of theatres, operas, entertainment facilities and at
least 10% of the sleeping quarters of motels and hotels, such provisions do
not apply to existing buildings: these are still covered by the Fire Code,
which has not specified requirements for visual alarms. Among Fire Code
requirements are emergency procedures for "evacuating occupants, including
special provisions for persons requiring assistance." Both codes require
owners to establish fire safety management plans to be approved by the local
fire or building department and implemented by trained hotel supervisors and
staff as well as annual fire safety plan and training reviews. As with the
AODA and other provincial laws, the Human Rights Code also has primacy over
both the Fire Code and Building Code.
    Unfortunately, many businesses may be under the incorrect impression that
by complying with the Fire Code and Building Code they are meeting all of
their legal obligations. Others have expressed frustration around the
confusion caused by discrepancies between these laws and the Human Rights
Code. This may have the unintended effect of reinforcing existing barriers for
persons with disabilities. The Commission has expressed concerns about the
Building Code in a number of ways over the years, including submissions on
strengthening the Building Code and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as
well as discussion papers and reports on restaurant accessibility, family
status, housing and age discrimination against older persons.

    Programs to assist commercial owners in meeting accessibility
    requirements

    Government and private sector programs are available to assist hotels and
other commercial building owners and operators to meet appropriate safety
standards for individuals with disabilities.
    Under the Income Tax Act, 20(1) (qq) and 20(1) (rr), the federal
government allows businesses and commercial building owners to deduct costs to
install prescribed disability-related devices or equipment, including visual
fire alarms. For further information, visit the Canada Revenue Agency Website:
www.cra-arc.gc.ca/menu.html.
    Through the EnAbling Change Program, the Accessibility Directorate of the
Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services partners with organizations
playing a leadership role in identifying, removing and preventing barriers for
people with disabilities. One example is the Hospitality Accessibility
Checklist developed by the Greater Toronto Hotel Association to ensure hotels
provide safe services to guests with disabilities. The checklist is featured
on the association Website along with a comprehensive list of resources,
suppliers and products to assist hotels in meeting accessibility requirements.
Guests can also use the checklist to question potential hotel accommodations
for suitability. Sample questions include:

    
    "B.14 Fire & Life Safety
    -   Is there an established Fire Policy and Fire Safety Plan for the
        evacuation of people with disabilities from all floors?
    -   Are the main exit routes and exit doors accessible to and useable by
        persons using wheelchairs or other mobility aids?
    -   Do the main exit routes and doors lead to safe, level exterior areas
        large enough to comfortably accommodate three or more persons using
        wheelchairs?
    -   Have safe interior areas-of-refuge or alternative horizontal routes
        to other separate, safe areas of the building, been provided for
        disabled persons in case of fire?
    -   Have exit instructions in accessible suites been printed in large
        text, and mounted in an accessible, highly visible location in each
        suite?
    -   Are audible and fire alarm signals located close to exit doors?
    -   Do fire alarms have both a visual and an audible signal? a) in all
        public areas of the building (e.g.: corridors, assembly areas, etc.)?
        b) in all accessible guest suites?
    -   Are the exit signs: a) readily visible from all locations, by both
        seated and standing persons? b) at a constant height throughout the
        building?
    -   For persons who have hearing limitations, have vibrating pagers been
        made available to alert them when a fire alarm is activated?"
    

    Another EnAbling Change project is a free on-line course entitled,
"Accessibility: Its Impact On Small and Medium Sized Business," developed by
Social and Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI) and the Ontario
Association of Community Futures Development Corporations. The course is
designed to help businesses get ready to meet the new AODA Customer Service
Standards by increasing knowledge and awareness of accessibility issues and
standards, how best to serve the needs of clients who have a disability, and
how a lack of accessibility impacts on business. It also provides resources
and tools such as an accessibility audit and customer service action plan for
implementing standards, and compliance requirements and penalties for
non-compliance. For more information, visit:
www.cfdlearn.ca/accessiblebiz4pwd.

    Bill 14

    On December 13, 2007, Bill 14, the Fire Protection Statute Law Amendment
Act, 2007, a Private Member's bill addressing the need for interconnected fire
alarms and non-combustible fire escapes in multi-unit buildings, passed Second
Reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. If
passed into law, the Bill would amend the Building Code and Fire Code to help
ensure fires serious enough to reach building common areas would set off
alarms to alert the whole building. In its submission, the Canadian Hearing
Society recommended that the Bill specify that these alarms include strobe or
other visual devices for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to be connected
into individual units of those persons requiring them.

    Canadian Hearing Society

    The Canadian Hearing Society recently issued its Position Paper on Alarms
and Emergency Notification Systems underscoring the importance of accessible
safety features for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals where they live. It
points out that current Ontario law does not require, nor address who is
responsible for the cost or installation of, visual fire alarms and/or
notification systems within individual apartment units, new condominium units
or new homes. According to CHS, the cost of such devices is not covered in
private dwellings under the provincial Assistive Devices Program. Landlords
are not specifically required to provide visual fire alarms for their
culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing residents nor are
homebuilders required to install such devices into new homes or condominium
units for buyers requiring them.
    For more information, please visit:
www.chs.ca/info/publicaffairs/pdf/CHSPositionOnAlarmsNotification.pdf.

    Property Tax Deduction

    Following the May 11, 2007 Superior Court of Justice decision Fusca v.
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, a deaf or hard of hearing person
can claim a reduction in property taxes for a visual alarm system. If the fire
alarm was installed during construction, the assessed property value and tax
will automatically be reduced by 10% annually. For an existing home, the
ongoing assessment reduction will equal the cost of the fire alarm and
installation.

    See the court case at:
www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2007/2007canlii16630/2007canlii16630.html.
    For how to apply, go to:
www.mpac.ca/pages_english/procedures/procedure_senior_and_disabled_tax_relief.
asp.
    The authority is granted by section 3(1), line 22 of the Ontario
Assessment Act.





For further information:

For further information: please refer to the OHRC Policy and Guidelines
on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate and other resources at
www.ohrc.on.ca or contact: François Larsen, Director Policy & Education
Branch, (416) 314-4532; Jeff Poirier, Manager, Communications, Policy &
Education Branch, (416) 314-4539


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