Making dealerships more accessible is the right thing to do from a human-rights perspective. It’s also a smart business decision.
Rick Hansen’s message delivered to auto-retail leaders — and detailed in two stories recently posted online — couldn’t have been any clearer. Hansen, a three-time Paralympic gold-medal winner, wheeled 40,075 kilometres from 1985 to 1987 for his Man in Motion World Tour to raise awareness of disabilities and help find a cure for spinal-cord injuries. Hansen suffered such an injury at age 15. He now leads the Rick Hansen Foundation, which is dedicated to removing barriers that make it difficult for people with disabilities to access places to live or work.
In an address at the Automotive Conference and Expo earlier this year, Hansen laid out the business case to dealers to make their stores more accessible. Citing a study by his foundation and the Angus Reid Institute, he said 24 per cent of Canadians have some sort of mobility, vision or hearing disability or challenge, a number that is expected to rise as the population ages.
And 30 per cent of Canadians, or about nine million people, said they would “consider accessibility when deciding which business to visit.”
Increasing accessibility means dealers not only would be able to bring more customers into their stores but would be opening themselves up to an untapped labour pool. An accessible store could mean more applications from people with disabilities, helping to fill jobs in a tight labour market.
John White, president of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), and Todd Bourgon, executive director of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) in Ontario, said they planned to meet with automakers to dis cuss improving accessibility at dealerships, which often fail to go beyond bare-minimum requirements, such as accessible parking spaces.
But dealers can do simple things to make their stores more universally hospitable. A 2018 report by the Conference Board o Canada laid out low-cost steps, such as removing clutter to make it easier for people to move around and using voice-recognition typing technology.
Hansen said dealerships often play critical roles in their communities and are in an ideal position to become leaders in making businesses more accessible.
It’s a role that dealers should embrace. There are costs involved, yes, but we must recognize the need to increase accessibility for everyone.
Businesses will be better off long term if their stores are accessible to customers and potential employees who otherwise might not have considered those businesses.
The auto industry as a whole, in fact, could lea the way, especially as autonomous vehicles become commonplace. They will work wonders fo people with disabilities by providing mobility.
And if dealerships fully embrace accessibility in the coming years, the auto industry can pave the way toward making our society inclusive for all.