In 2005, the Ontario provincial government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA). While the AODA itself does not impose any substantive requirements on employers, it provides for the creation of regulations or "accessibility standards" which mandate that organizations take specific steps to increase accessibility for people with disabilities.
Since the AODA became law, two sets of accessibility standards have now been filed as regulations: the "Customer Service Standard" and the comprehensive "Integrated Accessibility Standards." Beginning on January 1, 2012, certain categories of organizations will be required to comply with requirements under both accessibility standards.
The Customer Service Standard
The Customer Service Standard began applying to designated public sector organizations on January 1, 2010 and will begin to apply to private sector organizations, who provide goods and services to the public and employ more than one employee in Ontario, as of January 1, 2012.
This standard imposes certain specific obligations on providers of goods and services, including requirements to provide access to service animals and support persons of people with disabilities, and to provide notices of temporary disruptions in services.
In addition, the Customer Service Standard also imposes requirements regarding establishing policies and providing training to employees. These requirements include:
- establishing policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities;
- ensuring that persons involved with providing services to "the public or other third parties" receive training, which must include:
- i.how to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disabilities;
- how to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises that may help a person with a disability; and
- what to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or service.
- establishing a process for responding to feedback and complaints about the manner in which an organization provides goods or services to those with disabilities.
As of January 1, 2012, every organization with 20 or more employees in Ontario will also be required to prepare written policies regarding accessibility (including training policies), to keep records relating to the accessibility training provided, and to provide reports regarding compliance with the AODA.
Integrated Accessibility Standards
On June 3, 2011, the long awaited Integrated Accessibility Standards were also filed as a regulation. The Integrated Accessibility Standards contain: (i) a general accessibility standard; (ii) an information and communication accessibility standard; (iii) an employment accessibility standard; and (iv) a transportation accessibility standard. Each of these standards imposes specific obligations regarding increasing accessibility for persons with disability. The Integrated Accessibility Standards also contain a compliance section which designates the Licence Appeal Tribunal as the tribunal designated to hear matters arising out of the AODA.
The notable aspects of the Integrated Accessibility Standards include additional training obligations which relate to training employees, both on the standards themselves, and on obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The timelines for compliance vary (based on the category and size of organization) and most of these requirements will not apply to many organizations for a number of years.
However, certain obligations under the Integrated Accessibility Standards will begin to apply to some organizations on January 1, 2012. These obligations include converting public emergency procedures, plans or public safety information made available to the public into an accessible format, upon request.
Steps to Take in Order to Comply With the AODA
Beginning in 2012, employers with 20 or more employees will be required to file annual reports verifying their compliance with the AODA. The precise deadline and process for filing compliance reports has not yet been established; however, employers should be prepared to verify their compliance by some time in early 2012. In order to comply with the AODA, organizations should complete the following steps by the end of 2011:
- review existing customer service, accessibility or accommodation policies, practices or procedures;
- consider what employees are involved in the provision of services to members of the public or other third parties, and ensuring those individuals receive the required training;
- consider whether there are any contractors or companies which provide services to third parties or members of the public on behalf of the organization, and whether it is necessary to obtain acknowledgments to ensure that such contractors comply with the AODA;
- for organizations with 20 or more employees in Ontario, prepare written policies governing the provision of good or services to persons with disabilities; and
- review any existing emergency evacuation procedures and consider whether such procedures should be converted to a different format.