Nova Scotia

Cape Breton businesses encouraged to tap accessibility money

Thirty-one business owners have registered for an information session in Sydney, N.S., on how to apply for money from a year-old provincial accessibility fund.

31 businesses have signed up for an information session to be held Friday in Sydney

Making a business more accessible can mean changes to doorways. (Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

Cape Breton businesses will learn Friday how to take advantage of the Small Business ACCESS-Ability Grant Program.

The Nova Scotia government launched the program in 2017 so businesses could make improvements for their clients, customers and employees.

Marcie Schwery-Stanley, chair of the Society for the Improvement of Accessible Transportation, said there has been very little or no marketing of the program since the launch, so she and Eileen Lannon-Oldford of Business Cape Breton decided to co-host their own information session.

Thirty-one business owners have registered for the luncheon event at the Holiday Inn on the Sydney Waterfront, including Duke Fraser, the owner of several Robin's Donut shops in Cape Breton.

"l want to find out what is available to businesses," he said, noting his shops have accessible doors and washrooms, but he thinks more could be done for people with disabilities.

"Who knows, maybe there is some newer screens or maybe Braille that could be put in there for us," he said. "It's just not access from the door; it's once you get in the door to do your ordering or for them to see a menu. We don't know what's available."

Duke Fraser, owner of several Robin's Donuts shops in Cape Breton, thinks there's more he can do to for his customers with disabilities. (Submitted by Duke Fraser)

Business Cape Breton staff will be available at the information session to assist with the completion of applications.

A former businessperson herself, Schwery-Stanley said many small business owners are adverse to going through the process.

"They don't have a lot of staff, they don't have a lot of financial resources, they don't have a lot of time," she said.

But she said they also lose out on business by not being more accessible. 

"The businesses are losing money when I don't go in."

Schwery-Stanley said she can't patronize many downtown Sydney, N.S., stores and restaurants because she can't get her wheelchair through the doorways.

She said a number of businesses on Charlotte Street have lips on their thresholds of five centimetres or more that stop someone in a manual wheelchair from getting in. In some cases, the door isn't wide enough.

"It's very difficult to get into that door," she said.

(Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

Grants help pay for the installation of ramps, accessible washrooms, door openers and other projects.

"As well, funding will also help with research and development of an accessible-work app through St. Mary's University," said Small Business ACCESS-Ability grant co-ordinator Wayne Matheson.

He said 18 groups have been funded through the $900,000 Small Business ACCESS-Ability fund, which was fully spent in the fiscal year just ending.

This year, there is $1 million, he said, and there are currently five groups in the queue for funding.