Effective January 1, 2012, most private sector businesses will need to comply with new customer service requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The new requirements, which are described in the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, are intended to promote the accessibility of goods and services to people with disabilities. These requirements already apply to parts of the public sector.

As of January 1, 2012, the requirements will apply to all people, businesses and organizations that:

  • Provide goods or services either to the public or to other businesses or organizations; and
  • Have at least one employee in Ontario.

These criteria cast a very wide net, since they encompass both public-facing businesses and those that provide goods/services to other organizations.

The requirements of the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service include:

  1. Developing customer service policies and procedures for serving people with disabilities.
  2. Training your staff, volunteers and contractors to serve customers with disabilities.
  3. Having a policy on allowing people to use their own assistive devices (e.g., cane, wheelchair, oxygen tank, etc.) to access your goods and services.
  4. Communicating with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
  5. Allowing people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal in areas of your business that are open to the public.
  6. Letting customers with disabilities provide feedback on how you met their needs and establishing a process to respond and take action on any complaints.

The full set of requirements are described in our group’s recent e-blast  and on the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ website.

In addition, organizations with more than 20 employees will need to file an annual accessibility report demonstrating your organization’s compliance with the new regulatory requirements and keep certain required records.

Many of the requirements listed above codify best practices that your organization may already have implemented. Others may take some time and attention to implement.

Failing to comply or report as required could result in an order to comply and/or monetary penalties.

The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service will not be the last AODA regulation with an impact on private sector employers in Ontario.

Before the end of 2011, the Ontario government is expected to finalize an Integrated Accessibility Regulation that covers a number of areas, including employment. The draft Integrated Accessbility Standards that was recently available for public consultation contained a wide spectrum of requirements touching on the entire employment life cycle from recruitment to individual accommodation and redeployment and everything in between. The timetable in the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation suggested that these requirements could come into force for private sector organizations in 2015.

Our group will continue to monitor developments under the AODA in the coming months.