News for Ontario retailers

Why is the AODA important to retailers?

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act2005 (AODA) has the goal of making the province of Ontario fully accessible by 2025. The first component required accessible customer service by 2012. Future requirements include accessible websites, service counters and parking at bricks and mortar retail establishments.

All of these requirements have a particular impact on retailers in Ontario. Also included under the AODA are numerous accessibility requirements for employees and job applicants with disabilities, which affect all Ontario employers. There are, however, special challenges for retailers in circumstances where sales staff are required to stand for long periods of time in retail establishments or need to communicate with the public. 

Enforcement

To date, a handful of organizations, none of which are retailers, have had administrative penalties levied against them, typically in the amount of CA$2,000. The penalties resulted from a failure to file the online compliance report about accessible customer service on the ServiceOntario website by the December 31, 2012 deadline.

Given the effect of AODA on retailers, it is not surprising that the very first audit by the Ontario government targeted retailers. Specifically, in the last quarter of 2015, the Ontario government audited retailers with 500 or more employees for compliance with the AODA requirements, including, in particular, the requirement to prepare and post a multi-year accessibility plan on the website and to have individualized emergency response plans prepared for employees with disabilities. We are currently awaiting a report on the outcome of the retail audit blitz.

Requirements to date

Set out below is a brief list of the key milestones to date under the AODA for the three sizes of retailers covered by the Act. The indicated number of employees refers to those located in the province of Ontario. By January 1, 2016, ensure that the following requirements have been completed (note that some of these requirements were to be effected by January 1, 2012, January 1, 2014 or January 1, 2015).

Small retailers (fewer than 20 employees)

Accessible customer service: Accessible customer service plan prepared; employees trained on accessible customer service; public feedback process established on how the retailer provides goods or services to members of the public with disabilities; notice is provided of any temporary disruptions in services or facilities used by people with disabilities.

General accessibility requirements: Policies prepared on how the retailer will achieve accessibility; training of all employees on the AODA and Human Rights Code provisions on disability discrimination.

Employment: Individualized emergency response information provided to employees with disabilities who may need help in an emergency.

Information and communications: Emergency and public safety information is made accessible to the public upon request; if the retailer has a feedback/survey process it is accessible to people with disabilities through accessible formats and communication supports.

Medium-sized retailers (20 to 49 employees)

Accessible customer service: Accessible customer service plan prepared; employees trained on accessible customer service; public feedback process established on how the retailer provides goods or services to members of the public with disabilities; notice is provided of any temporary disruptions in services or facilities used by people with disabilities; report filed on ServiceOntario website by December 31, 2012 and December 31, 2014.

General accessibility requirements: Policies prepared on how the retailer will achieve accessibility; training of all employees on the AODA and Human Rights Code provisions on disability discrimination.

Employment: Individualized emergency response information provided to employees with disabilities who may need help in an emergency.

Information and communications: Emergency and public safety information is made accessible to the public upon request; if the retailer has a feedback/survey process, it is accessible to people with disabilities through accessible formats and communication supports.

Large retailers (50+ employees)

Accessible customer service: Accessible customer service plan prepared; employees trained on accessible customer service; public feedback process established on how the retailer provides goods or services to members of the public with disabilities; notice is provided of any temporary disruptions in services or facilities used by people with disabilities; report filed on ServiceOntario website by December 31, 2012 and December 31, 2014.

General accessibility requirements: Policies prepared on how the retailer will achieve accessibility; training of all employees on the AODA and Human Rights Code provisions on disability discrimination; Statement of Organizational Commitment posted; multi-year accessibility plan posted.

Employment: Individualized emergency response information provided to employees with disabilities who may need help in an emergency; public is notified that job applicants with disabilities can request accommodation; offers of employment include notice of policies on accommodation; employees are notified of policies on accommodation; communication supports are provided to employees who need assistance in accessing information required to perform their jobs; individual accommodation plans prepared for employees with disabilities; return-to-work process in place for employees off work due to disability who require accommodation to return to work; when utilizing performance management (such as annual performance appraisals), accessibility needs of employees with disabilities are taken into account, similarly with career development and advancement opportunities.

Information and communications: Emergency and public safety information is made accessible to the public upon request; if the retailer has a feedback/survey process, it is accessible to people with disabilities through accessible formats and communication supports; if a new website is prepared or an existing website is a significantly refreshed site with web content published after January 1, 2012, this conforms to WCAG 2.0 Level A (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines); upon request retailer provides accessible formats and communication supports for members of the public with disabilities.

None of the built environment/design of public spaces accessibility requirements are yet in place. However, retailers building, refurbishing or remodeling bricks and mortar retail space should be planning for the requirement, some of which come into effect on January 1, 2017. The key requirements address off-street parking, newly-constructed service counters and fixed queuing guides. We will report on these design requirements in a future report.