June 10, 2013

Universal access to supermarkets and pharmacies

Logo de la Commission des droits de la personee et des droits de la jeunesse

Montréal, June 6, 2013 – As part of the Semaine québécoise des personnes handicapées, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse released today findings of an awareness project aimed at six of Québec’s major chains of supermarkets and pharmacies. The project examined the barriers encountered by people with disabilities when they attempt to buy basic necessities, and highlights possible solutions to remedy the situation.

As part of its field study of 52 stores throughout Québec, the Commission found that none of them were fully accessible, not only because of problems related to architecture but also organizational and relational issues. The Commission then contacted representatives of the six chains involved to share its findings and explore with them how they could honour their obligations and commit to making changes to improve their stores’ accessibility.

“This innovative project allowed us to advocate for universal access and to convince the chains to adopt significant measures that could improve access for people with disabilities. A large part of the population will also benefit from these measures,” the president of the Commission, Gaétan Cousineau said as he unveiled the report Awareness Project: Towards Universal Access to Goods and Services in Pharmacies and Supermarkets.

Retail outlets of the following chains were part of the study: Les Compagnies Loblaw limitée, Groupe Jean Coutu (PJC) inc., Groupe Uniprix (Uniprix inc.), Metro Richelieu inc., Shoppers Drug Mart and Sobeys inc.

The Commission made six requests to the chains:

  1. Establish a policy on accessibility of stores and customer service.
  2. Examine the barriers to accessibility in all the chains’ stores and develop a plan to adapt the premises and services.
  3. Develop a plan for immediate measures to eliminate barriers that can be easily dealt with.
  4. Develop a training program for current employees, ensure initial training and professional development, and assess its impact.
  5. Create an accessibility plan for new stores.
  6. Monitor progress in terms of accessibility and report to the Commission in a year.

As a result, the six chains voluntarily put forward a series of specific commitments such as:

  • The implementation of detachable pay terminals in all stores;
  • Adding accessibility awareness to the training program of new employees;
  • Creating an annual week dedicated to people with disabilities which would involve special daily activities;
  • Calling on disability-rights groups to assess the quality of their new stores.

People with visual or motor impairments, as well as staff members of the Commission, visited the pharmacies and supermarkets anonymously to assess how accessible they were. The initial phases of this project were conducted in cooperation with the Confédération des organismes provinciaux de personnes handicapées (COPHAN), to ensure that the point of view of people with disabilities be taken into account and that they supported this initiative.

The path-to-purchase—from parking lot to entrance, from entrance to aisles, from aisles to products, from products to checkout, and from checkout to exit—was analyzed in order to obtain a realistic picture of the barriers generally faced by people with disabilities. The barriers encountered were similar and were often related to the operations or customer service, including obstructed aisles, the handles of refrigerators and freezers that were too high to reach, checkout counters that were too high, pay terminals that were fixed or locked and difficulty to get help when requested.

While meeting with representatives of the six chains, the Commission realized that their understanding of universal access was too often limited to architectural norms and the requirements of the Building Act and the Building Code, which are minimum standards. The Commission used these meetings to raise their awareness of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which has a wider scope and also, encourage them to work towards universal access.

The Commission launched this project after noticing a considerable increase in the past years, of the number of complaints involving commercial establishments. Last year, the Commission received 307 discrimination complaints based on disability or the mean to palliate a disability. Disability discrimination is the single largest category of complaints received by the Commission and last year represented 30% of all discrimination complaints.

“With this report, the Commission also wants to raise awareness of other commercial establishments and society as a whole to the importance of considering the rights and needs of people with disabilities. As the population ages, more and more people will suffer some form of disability. Better access to stores and other public places will therefore benefit everyone,” noted Mr. Cousineau, who added that the Commission is also committed in following-up on the progress within a year.

The report in French Vers un accès universel aux biens et services des pharmacies et des établissements d’alimentation and an English-language summary are available on the Commission’s Web site:

Report: www.cdpdj.qc.ca/Publications/rapport_acces_biens_services.pdfOpen in new window.

Summary: www.cdpdj.qc.ca/Publications/Resume_Acces_Biens_Services_Eng.pdfOpen in new window.


Contact :

Meissoon Azzaria

514 873-5146 or 1 800 361-6477 extension 210

514 795-0736 (cellular)