Accessible Heritage

Accessible facilities, programs, exhibits and services for people with disabilities.

Making Ontario’s Heritage Accessible for Persons with Disabilities

Heritage organizations play a valuable role in preserving, celebrating and sharing Ontario’s history and heritage for the benefit of everyone. The legacy of the past is kept alive at heritage properties, local historic sites, community museums and like-minded organizations across the province. It is important to make sure this legacy is accessible to all – including people with disabilities.

Accessible Heritage Tool Kit

In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The purpose of the act is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025, by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards. The Act provides for the involvement of people with disabilities, representatives of sectors of the economy and the Government of Ontario in the development of accessibility standards. The AODA applies to every person or organization in the public and private sectors of Ontario.

Heritage organizations have asked for guidance and advice about how to make their premises, programs, services and policies accessible. Each one of these organizations has distinct strengths and needs. Some organizations already have accessibility improvement projects well underway; others are wondering how to get started.

In 2008, The Ontario Historical Society, in partnership with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, published Accessible Heritage – An Accessibility Tool Kit For Ontario’s Heritage Organizations and Institutions to provide Ontario’s heritage, culture and tourism sectors with help in creating accessible facilities, programs, exhibits and services for people with disabilities.

The Tool Kit is designed to help your organization chart its own path to accessibility, whatever its scope and resources, and whether it is a newcomer or old hand at the process. It is designed in a loose-leaf binder format to allow for the addition of new material and the updating or revision of existing material. Each of its eight modules covers an important aspect of achieving accessibility throughout your organization.

In addition, the OHS has conducted customer service standard educational workshops across Ontario to launch and promote the Accessible Heritage Tool Kit. In 2008-2009, the OHS visited Ottawa, Blind River, Stouffville, Fort Francis, Sioux Lookout and Barrie.

The Ontario Historical Society acknowledges the support of the Government of Ontario through the EnAbling Change Program, delivered through the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services.


This section is designed as only an introduction and tour of our publication. Choose one of the modules listed below to explore the tool kit; each module examines an important aspect of accessibility in heritage. Download the full Tool Kit, split into Part One and Part Two, below.

“Disability is a prohibited ground of discrimination in both the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

This module gives an overview of provincial legislation related to disability that may apply to heritage organizations, and should be used as a reference tool. Full versions can be found at the Provincial Government’s E-Laws website.

This section also outlines the Ontario Human Rights Code and how it defines different types of discrimination; the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005; and the Ontario Building Code.

“Many, if not most limitations experienced by people with disabilities are not caused by the disability itself. The limitations are caused by the environment.”

This module provides information on the nature of disability and barriers. It describes seven types of common barriers and methods for identifying them, including consulting with disability groups or people with disabilities.

  • Attitudinal Barriers (ie. Negative Perception or Pity Barrier)
  • Architectural Barriers
  • Physical Barriers
  • Communication Barriers
  • Information Barriers
  • Technological Barriers
  • Policy/Procedure/Practice Barriers

Module 2: Understanding Disability and Barriers not only identifies each category, but defines what they are and how one might find them within an organization and solve the problems these barriers create.

“Access and accommodation measures must always respect the personal dignity of people with disabilities.”

This module explains what accessibility and accommodation mean, and their benefits for heritage organizations.

“While this Tool Kit offers general guidelines on interacting with people with disabilities, it is not definitive, as each person has his/her own personal preferences…When in doubt, ask.”

The information in this module will help your organization communicate positively about disability issues, and communicate effectively with people who have a disability. The topics covered include preferred language/terminology and etiquette in relation to different types of disability.

This module also outlines the proper etiquette when meeting or approaching a person with a disability. For example, if a visitor is either deaf or hard of hearing, it is important to gain their attention and ask what communication technique the person prefers, before beginning to speak. It is also important to speak clearly and slowly, but without exaggeration. Never shout at a person.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to successful accessibility planning. Each heritage organization must develop a planning process that reflects its character and needs.”

This module suggests a strategy your organization can use to develop an accessibility plan, and advice on planning accessible events, exhibits, and displays. It offers a step-by-step approach to Accessibility Planning that will assist in the steps necessary to achieve accessibility, from (Step 1): Appointing an Accessibility Coordinator to (Step 10): Monitoring and reviewing your progress.

This module contains checklists to help with specific aspects of accessibility planning, e.g., creating accessible signage, washroom facilities, and exhibits.

This module provides information on common alternate formats and their uses, and information on producing some types of alternate formats.

This module provides additional information on a variety of topics, a list of Web and print resources on disability and accessibility relevant to heritage organizations, and a bibliography of the sources used in the preparation of this document.

A Message from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

Disability impacts the lives of many Ontarians, and the number of people with disabilities is increasing.

In the next 20 years, an aging population and people with disabilities will represent 40% of total income in Ontario – that’s $536 billion. Making sure all Ontarians have accessible customer service is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.

Ontario’s new Accessibility Standard for Customer Service can help you meet the needs of this growing community. Starting January 1, 2012, the standard will come into effect for all businesses and organizations with one or more employees.

Accessible customer service is as simple as making some small changes and training your staff to serve customers of all abilities, such as:

  • Accommodating a customer’s service dog.
  • Writing down the answer to a question for someone who is Deaf.
  • Using plain language and speaking in short sentences when helping someone with a developmental disability.
  • Providing accessible customer service is easy and we’re here to help.

Visit to learn which changes apply to your organization and to find free tools to help you.


Alfred Spencer
Director, Outreach and Compliance
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

Access… Beyond the Ramp Series

In this article series for the OHS Bulletin, accessibility advocate John Rae examines a variety of access issues for heritage organizations and institutions. Select from the list of Parts 1-10 below to read the complete series of articles.