A. INTRODUCTION

New Ontario landmark legislation is being implemented that may significantly impact the way organizations accommodate and deal with persons with disabilities. If you do business in Ontario, you should familiarize yourself with this new legislation and determine how to best comply.

On January 1, 2008, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the “Standards”), the first of five anticipated regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “Act”), came into effect. The purpose of this bulletin is to provide a brief overview of the Standards, highlighting what organizations must do to comply with the Standards, the time frame in which organizations must comply and the risks associated with non-compliance.

B. WHO MUST COMPLY WITH THE STANDARDS

All organizations in Ontario that provide goods or services to the public or other third parties, and have at least one employee, are covered by the Standards. These organizations include private businesses, not-for-profit organizations, provincial and municipal governments and agencies, and designated public sector organizations such as universities, colleges, hospitals, school boards and public transit organizations.

C. COMPLIANCE

There are numerous requirements that are applicable to all providers of goods and services, and an additional three requirements for designated public sector organizations or other providers with 20 or more employees. These requirements are summarized below.

If you are a provider of goods and services, you must establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to people with disabilities. In addition, you must set a policy on allowing people to use their own personal assistive devices to access your goods and use your services. As well, you must have a policy about measures your organization offers (assistive devices, services or methods) to people with disabilities to access your goods and use your services.

You must communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability. You must allow people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal in those areas of your premises that are open to the public, unless the animal is excluded by another law. You must permit people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services. You are also required to provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on are temporarily disrupted.

Several requirements require training of staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who interact with the public or third parties on your organization’s behalf. This includes training staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who are involved in developing your policies, practices and procedures, whether or not they are directly involved in providing goods or services. Finally, your organization must establish a process for people to provide feedback on how you provide goods or services to people with disabilities and how you will respond to any feedback and take action on any complaints. You must make the information about your feedback process available to the public.

In addition to the above requirements, if you are a designated public sector organization or other provider of goods or services with 20 or more employees, you must document in writing all your policies, practices and procedures for providing accessible customer service and meeting other requirements set out in the Standards. You must notify customers that documents required under the Standards are available upon request. And when providing required documents to a person with a disability, you must provide the information in a format that takes into account the person’s disability.

D. TIME PERIODS

All designated public sector organizations with one or more employees are required to comply with the Standard starting on January 1, 2010. This will include annual filing of accessibility reports with the appropriate Ministry under the Act. All private sector and non-for-profit businesses and organizations are required to comply with the Standard starting January 1, 2012. Such organizations with 20 or more employees will be required to have accessibility policies in writing and to file annual accessibility reports. All private sector and non-for-profit businesses and organizations with 1 to 19 employees will be exempt from having a written policy and filing accessibility reports.

E. THE CONSEQUENCES OF NON-COMPLIANCE

There are a number of offences set out in the Act. Every person who is guilty of an offence under the Act is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $50,000 for each day in which the offence occurs or continues to occur, or if that person is a corporation, to a fine up to $100,000 for each day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur. Also, every director and officer of a corporation is under a duty to take all reasonable care to prevent the corporation from committing an offence under the Act. Every director or officer who fails to carry out this duty is liable to a fine of up to $50,000 per day.

F. THE FUTURE – OTHER ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS

The Customer Service Standards are but one of five contemplated standards under the Act. Accessible Information and Communication Standards will address the removal of barriers in access to information, including information provided by print, website or other means. Accessible Built Environment Standards will address access into and within buildings and outdoor spaces. Employment Accessibility Standards will seek to regulate paid employment practices relating to employee-employer relationships, which could include a firm’s recruitment, hiring and retention policies. Accessible Transportation Standards will address accessible public transportation for people going to work or school, for shopping and other aspects of daily life.  

All of these anticipated standards should be kept in mind when planning for the future of your organization.

G. WHAT ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD DO

  • Familiarize themselves with the legislation and Customer Service Standards. There is some helpful material at www.accesson.ca, including, the Guide to the Customer Service Standard. (The guide’s url is: http://209.167.40.96/page.asp?unit=cust-serv-reg&doc=guide&lang=en). A Compliance Handbook, promised for March 2008, has yet to be released. The website www.accesson.ca also includes videos and interactive tools to sensitize businesses to the legislation’s requirements.
  • Start thinking about developing a compliance plan.
  • Consider how to communicate a plan to employees. Training is required.