The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, (AODA) requires phased-in compliance by public and private organizations, with five sets of mandatory standards to ensure that Ontarians with disabilities are able to obtain full access to goods, services, accommodations, employment, buildings and premises.
Currently, there are four standards in place: the Customer Service Standard, the Information and Communications Standard, the Employment Standard, and the Transportation Standard, the latter three of which are contained in the Integrated Accessibility Standards. While the fifth standard, the Built Environment Standard, has been the subject of public consultations, it has yet to be issued. This update will provide information about the compliance requirements for four of the six standards—the Customer Service Standard, the Information and Communications Standard, the Employment Standard and the general requirements under the Integrated Accessibility Standards.
Deadlines for compliance with the standards vary depending on the nature and size of an organization. Thus, it is important employers ensure that they have complied with current requirements and are preparing to meet the upcoming additional requirements under the standards.
Current compliance requirements
Since January 1, 2012, private sector organizations in Ontario are expected to be in compliance with the Customer Service Standard. In brief, the Customer Service Standard applies to every person or organization with at least one employee in Ontario that “provides goods or services to members of the public or other third parties.” Amongst the requirements under the Customer Service Standard, organizations are expected to have an Accessible Customer Service Plan in place and to train employees on how to serve persons with disabilities. Organizations with more than 20 employees are required to file an accessibility compliance report online. More information on the Customer Service Standard is available in our previous update.
In addition, as of January 1, 2012, under the Employment Standard, employers are required to provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability where the disability will require such a measure.
Upcoming compliance requirements
With the deadline looming, it is time to start thinking about preparing to meet additional general requirements under the Integrated Standards. Large organizations will need to implement the latest requirements as of January 1, 2014. A large organization is a private sector organization with 50 or more employees in Ontario. Small organizations, which are defined as non-public sector organizations with fewer than 50 employees in Ontario, will have until January 1, 2015, to meet the requirements.
Organizations are required to:
- Establish accessibility policies, which state how the organization achieves or will achieve accessibility and include a statement of organizational commitment;
- Establish and implement multi-year accessibility plans (does not apply to small organizations), which set out the organization’s strategy for removing barriers to accessibility and for meeting its obligations under the AODA.
In addition, large organizations will be required to make any new Internet websites and web content accessible. New websites and content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A by January 1, 2014. WCAG 2.0 sets out guidelines for organizations to follow to make their websites more accessible. There are three levels of accessibility and further levels of accessibility will be required in the future.
Looking forward, organizations will be required to train employees, volunteers, persons who participate in developing the organization’s policies, and other persons who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization on both the accessibility standards and the Human Rights Code of Ontario. Large organizations will have until January 1, 2015, to meet the training requirements, whereas small organizations will have until January 1, 2016.
The majority of the remaining obligations under the Employment Standard, the Information and Communications Standard and the Transportation Standard will not become binding on private sector organizations with 50 or more employees until 2016 and private sector organizations with fewer than 50 employees until 2017.
Compliance with the AODA and the various applicable standards is mandatory and failure to comply may lead to fines. Moreover, compliance with the obligations under AODA can be relevant to other matters arising in the human rights sphere. For example, in 2012 the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered a business to produce evidence and records of employee training under the Customer Service Standard in the context of a human rights complaint.1
To prepare for the additional compliance requirements, employers should familiarize themselves with the general requirements under the Integrated Standards and be ready to implement any additional specific requirements that apply to them.