The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is Canada’s largest botanical garden. Boasting 2,700 acres of land cultivated into formal gardens, hiking trails and natural habitat, it’s no wonder that they host nearly 250,000 visitors each year. But recently, RBG has seen a spike in that number thanks to improvements that have literally opened their doors to visitors of all abilities.
“In the last couple of years,” explains Lee Oliver, Communications Manager at RBG, “we’ve been under a rejuvenation project to make RBG more accessible.”
As part of that project, renovations included putting in accessible parking, curb cuts and ramps, photosensitive doors, elevators with Braille and sound enunciators, two new accessible washrooms, and hard-packed and paved paths in the gardens and natural habitat areas.
“We actually brought in people to tell us what we needed, sort of the outside consultants, to make sure it worked,” says Lee. One of those key consultants was the Burlington Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC). The committee reviewed site plans for RBG and made recommendations based on their expertise.
Ron Baliko, past chair of the Burlington AAC and an RBG visitor who uses a wheelchair, says that he’s pleased to see RBG has headed their advice.
“Everything that we recommended has been incorporated into the new site,” he remarks. “I’m really impressed with the photosensitive doors, the hard surfaces that are easy to wheel about, the elevator that’s easy to use, and all of that.”
Ron says that the benefit to RBG by becoming more accessible speaks for itself –an increased amount of customers, and the likelihood of more of them returning.
RBG has learned that accessibility doesn’t have to be complicated. Lee says it’s the simple changes, including a change in mindset, that make it easier, and he advises other tourism organizations to look to experts like their local AAC for help. While numerous physical changes had to be made, one thing that didn’t need improving was the level of accessible service that patrons receive from the staff there.
“We’re aiming to simply have a best-in-class customer service,” explains Lee. “We have lots of special needs groups that come in, so we’re very used to what they require, and the staff is completely trained to address any issues.”
Armed with great customer service, heightened awareness and some fabulous new accommodation features, it looks like RBG can now add ‘accessible’ to their list of things to boast from.
“Clearly, we want to be a welcoming place,” Lee says, “And we do everything we can to make sure that happens.”