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Best Practices and Next Steps in Achieving Accessibility

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Many of the restaurants that the OHRC corresponded and met with emphasized that removing barriers for persons with disabilities, older persons, and families with young children was not only a matter of complying with the law, or of corporate social responsibility: it was also good business practice. They emphasized that persons with disabilities, older persons, and families with young children are their customers and their potential customers; they cannot afford to make their services inaccessible or inconvenient to such a significant demographic. The OHRC shares the view that accessible services ultimately benefit everyone, and that we all pay the price when persons with disabilities, older persons, or families with young children are marginalized or excluded.

In reviewing the achievements of the various restaurants that have participated in the Restaurant Accessibility Initiative, the OHRC wishes to draw attention to some of the positive practices that have been adopted and that may be useful as examples or a source of ideas for other restaurants seeking to achieve accessibility. This is not meant as a complete compendium of best practices, or even as a complete list of all of the positive practices adopted by the participating restaurants, but as a sample of ideas.

Franchise Agreements

  • Cara Operations, which franchises and operates Harvey’s, Kelsey’s, Montana’s Cookhouse and Milestone’s Grill and Bar, amended its standard franchise agreements to require that each individual restaurant be constructed in accordance with their standard building plan.
  • Select Sandwich has amended its franchise agreement and disclosure document to include its Accessibility Policy and Plan.


  • McDonald’s developed a comprehensive barrier-free access manual. The manual deals with issues including signage, seating, reach ranges, washrooms, doors, and accessible routes, and provides information on common barriers and solutions, and a review checklist. This is provided to franchisees as a resource in barrier removal.
  • McDonald’s has developed a comprehensive five year plan dealing with barriers in all of its restaurants across Canada, and will be implementing its accessibility initiatives across the country.

Practical Solutions:

  • Great Canadian Bagel developed practical solutions to some accessibility barriers: for example, since lowered condiment counters were awkward for customers to deal with, Great Canadian Bagel used higher condiment counters, but sloped them so as to be more accessible for those using wheelchairs. The size of menu boards was increased and the amount of text decreased: catering menus are provided for those who cannot read the overhead signs.

Leasehold Arrangements

  • Pizzaville has amended its standard lease agreements to alert landlords to their responsibility to provide premises that are accessible and barrier free.
  • As each location lease expires, Cara Operations (Harvey’s, Kelsey’s, Montana’s and Milestones) undertakes renovations as commercially reasonable to include accessibility features, or closes the location and rebuilds pursuant to the standardized accessibility plan.
  • Subway includes language in the master lease that requires the landlord’s best efforts to remove barriers inside the leased premises and on any path of travel to the leased premises controlled by the landlord. In existing locations, Subway works with its franchisees to seek the landlord’s assistance on removing barriers on leased property and common areas on the path of access to the shop.
  • Upon completion of its barrier review at each location, Select Sandwich will advise the landlord of each location of any accessibility barriers that are under the landlord’s sole control, and request that they be removed. In the event that the landlord refuses to remove barriers, Select Sandwich will report this to the Commission.

Training and Education

  • Coffee Time raises restaurant accessibility issues at its semi-annual meetings with franchisees.
  • Timothy’s developed a training program on service standards for persons with disabilities, which will be provided to all corporate and franchise staff.
  • Druxy’s trained all franchisees on its new accessibility policy, and committed to continued training of staff and franchisees.
  • Culture’s amended its training manual to include information about disability and accessibility issues.
  • Subway trains its franchisees on means of providing alternative service to persons with disabilities where complex barriers to accessibility exist.
  • McDonald’s has developed formal, standardized employee sensitivity training, with advice from the Canadian Standards Association.


  • Pizza Pizza conducts an annual review of accessibility enhancements and renovations, in order to highlight improvements implemented, and to set goals for the upcoming year.
  • Red Lobster’s Facilities Manager conducts accessibility audits twice once a year, as a means of identifying issues and developing solutions across the chain.

Other Features

  • Many restaurants took steps to ensure that their restaurants had Braille menus, as well as Braille or tactile signs on washroom doors.
  • Wendy’s is a partner with the Canadian Standards Association in their “Building Champions” program, focussing on accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s indicated that they would be implementing their accessibility plans across Canada.

Some of the restaurants involved in this initiative are relying heavily on staff training, education, and improved customer service to achieve accessibility. It is true that greater awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities, older persons and families with young children , and the accompanying improved service to individuals belonging to these groups are essential to achieving equality. However, it is equally true that education and customer service will not on their own resolve the significant accessibility issues in the restaurant industry, and others like it. Customer service and training will not by themselves remove barriers, ensure equal access, and bring organizations into compliance with the Code. These types of initiatives must be part of a larger commitment to universal design and barrier removal, leading ultimately to barrier-free services.

It is important to reaffirm that, under the Code, the ultimate standard is that of undue hardship. Restaurants, like other service providers, must take steps to the point of undue hardship to ensure that their restaurants are accessible to persons with disabilities. Where services are provided unequally to persons with disabilities because of accessibility barriers, the service provider must show that the barrier could not be removed without incurring undue hardship in terms of costs, health and safety, and outside sources of funding. The undue hardship standard is a high one. As is stated in the Policy, business inconvenience is not a defence to a failure to accommodate. Nor can contractual arrangements act as a bar to providing accommodation.

The restaurants involved in this initiative are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their accessibility plans will bring them into compliance with the Code and are in harmony with the undue hardship standard. It has been the OHRC’s role to educate the restaurant industry about the requirements of the Code and to provide the information and support necessary for the industry to begin moving towards compliance with the Code.

All of the restaurants involved in this initiative must continue to build on their successes, plan for accessibility, and implement and monitor their plans, until all barriers have been removed, or the undue hardship standard has been reached.

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