Ontario’s commitment to promoting and advancing accessibility for persons with disabilities is continuing, with amendments to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”) scheduled to become effective on July 1, 2016.
Under the current legislation, the requirements for employers and businesses operating in Ontario are split between O. Reg. 429/07 – Accessibility Standards for Customer Service and O. Reg. 191/11 – Integrated Accessibility Standards (Information and Communication, Employment, Transportation and Design of Public Spaces). Effective July 1st, these two regulations will be consolidated into a single Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation through amendments contained in O. Reg. 165/16.
Many of the changes that will be coming into effect serve to clean up and streamline the existing legislation and in particular, to align the requirements of the Customer Service Standards with those set out in the Integrated Accessibility Standards on issues such as:
- the definition of “small organization”, which will apply to organizations with at least one (1) but fewer than fifty (50) employees in Ontario, other than the Government of Ontario, the Legislative Assembly or a designated public sector organization (previously, a “small organization” under the Customer Service Standards had a threshold of at least one (1) but fewer than twenty (20) employees in Ontario);
- the application of the customer service related requirements to the provision of goods, services and facilities (previously only goods and services); and
- the requirement to provide documents in an accessible format or with the use of communications supports upon request, which will be a consistent requirement across all standards.
In addition to the “alignment” changes noted above, employers should make note of the following substantive changes that may impact their workplaces and their existing AODA compliance programs:
- Service Animals – Previously, the AODA required a note from a physician or nurse to certify a service animal. The legislation will be amended to include an expanded list of regulated health professionals who may certify a service animal, including psychologists, psychotherapists, audiologists, speech-pathologists, chiropractors, nurses, occupational therapists, physicians, optometrists, and mental health therapists, thereby facilitating easier access to such certification for persons with disabilities.
- Training – Previously, under the old Customer Service Standards, only those persons who provided goods or services to the public or other third parties had to be trained under the AODA. Going forward, all employees, volunteers and other persons who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization, as well as all persons involved in policy development, must undergo AODA customer service training (along with all other AODA training).
- Support Persons – Previously, an organization could require a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person where necessary to protect health and safety. Under the amendments, prior to requiring a support person, the organization will be required to consult with the person with a disability and must consider and assess whether there is actually a health and safety concern associated with their being unaccompanied. Organizations will only be permitted to require the presence of a support person if there is no other reasonable way to ensure the health and safety of the person with a disability and/or others on the premises. If a support person is required, the organization will have to waive any applicable admission fee or fare for that person.
- Documentation – Given the change to the definition of “small organization”, private sector employers with less than fifty (50) employees in Ontario will no longer be required to document in writing their customer service policy or make it publicly available, or to maintain training records. If you fall into this category and already maintain such a policy and records, consider whether it may be a best practice to continue to do so.
- Feedback – Under the amendments, existing customer service-specific feedback mechanisms will be required to solicit feedback on the accessibility of the process itself and any alternate means provided for under that process.
We recommend that all organizations review their existing AODA programs (including policies and training programs) to ensure that they comply with these amendments and, where applicable, update their multi-year accessibility plans to address the changes.