The Accessibilities for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA or the Act) was introduced by the Ontario government in 2005. The AODA is expected to eventually replace the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (a 2001 act) because this latter law has been heavily criticised for its lack of enforcement mechanisms, emphasis on voluntary compliance, and its application only to the public sector.
The real substance of the AODA is not in the Act itself but is contained in the Accessibility Standards passed as Regulations to the Act. Accessibility standards are the rules that businesses and organizations in Ontario will have to follow to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility.
Ontario is developing standards in the following areas:
- Customer service
- Information and communications
- Public transportation
- Built environment (buildings and other structures)
Customer Service Standard
The Customer Service Accessibility Standard is now law. Public sector organizations have been required to comply with the Customer Service Accessibility Standards since January 1, 2010. Private sector organizations with at least one (1) employee will be required to comply by January 1, 2012. The legal requirements of the accessibility standards for customer service are set out in two Ontario Regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
- Ontario Regulation 429/07 states the requirements of the customer service standard.
- Ontario Regulation 430/07 exempts organizations that have fewer than 20 employees (unless the organization is a designated public sector organization) from certain documentation requirements of the standard.
Compliance includes but is not limited to:
- The development of policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities, including a policy about the use of assistive devices
- Using reasonable efforts to ensure that these policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the principles of respect, dignity and independence
- 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
- Permitting people with disabilities who rely on a support person to bring that person with them while accessing your goods or services
- Communication with customers with disabilities in a manner that takes into account their disability (such as using Braille)
- Training customer service staff and anyone responsible for developing customer service policies, practices and procedures in the provision of accessible customer service
- Permitting customers with disabilities who have support persons or service animals to use them while accessing the goods or services, and providing advance notice about any policy on admission fees
- Providing notice when accessibility to services or facilities is temporarily disrupted (such as indications that an elevator is temporarily out of service)
- Developing a process for customers to provide feedback and for the organization to take action on complaints
- Filing Accessibility Reports
Employment, Information and Communications and Transportation Standards
The goal of the proposed Accessible Employment Standard is to help employers create equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The proposed Accessible Information and Communications Standard outlines how businesses and organizations will have to create, provide and receive information and communications in ways that are accessible for people with disabilities. The proposed Accessible Transportation Standard will make it easier for people to travel in Ontario.
On May 31, 2010, the Ontario government announced that it will integrate the standards relating to employment, information and communications and transportation into one streamlined regulation. The proposed integrated accessibility regulation will also include:
- Proposed timelines for compliance with accessibility standards
- Proposed framework for monetary penalties for businesses and organizations that do not comply
- Proposed designation of the License Appeal Tribunal as the tribunal to hear appeals relating to the AODA.
The proposed regulation was posted for public review from September 2 to October 16, 2010.
Built Environment Standard
The proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard provides recommendations to government on how to remove barriers in buildings and outdoor spaces for people with disabilities.
The initial proposed standard was released for public review from July 14, 2009 to October 16, 2009. The committee that developed the standard revised the initial draft standard to reflect the public’s input. At their last meeting on May 28, 2010, the committee voted on the standard clause by clause. The final proposed standard has now been submitted to the Minister of Community and Social Services who is considering what will become law and when.
The AODA targets full compliance with all of its standards by the year 2025.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services will enforce the requirements of the AODA. While we do not yet have reports of enforcement efforts, we do expect resources to be spent on enforcement, particularly given the sharp criticism of the former legislation. Failure to comply with the legislation may result in regulatory prosecution and monetary fines of up to $100,000 per day of non-compliance.
Organizations will need to plan carefully for the effort and resources required to comply with all of the standards as they become law. Expect accessibility to become a much more significant part of your organization’s development.