On July 1, 2016, important updates were introduced to Ontario Regulation 191/11, Integrated Accessibility Standards (the “Regulation”), pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”).
Changes that impact school boards include an expanded definition of “service animals” to include a broader number of regulated health professionals who can provide medical documentation to support the need for a service animal. These health professionals include members of the following:
- the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario;
- the College of Chiropractors of Ontario;
- the College of Nurses of Ontario;
- the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario;
- the College of Optometrists of Ontario;
- the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario;
- the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario;
- the College of Psychologists of Ontario; and
- the College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario.
School boards are advised to have policies and procedures that address service animal use by students when attending school, as well as service animal use by the public accessing schools or other school board facilities, including parents/guardians, event guests, and individuals who are members of the public accessing some or all of the premises through a facilities agreement. Different considerations will apply to students with special needs and members of the public.
Parents/guardians and other members of the public attending on school premises, including those who are renting facilities, may also be accompanied by a support worker, where necessary. Should a school event charge a fee for entry, a support worker may not be charged in their capacity as a support provider for a member of the public. School boards are advised to create policies that address the attendance of support workers on school premises.
A further Regulation update requires school boards to implement policies. School boards should consider general accommodation policies for students, as well as policies applicable to parents/guardians and members of the public accessing or renting school or board facilities. The Regulation explicitly requires policies to address the use of assistive devices and to reflect the following principles:
- The services or facilities must be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities.
- The provision services or facilities to persons with disabilities must be integrated with the provision of services or facilities to others, unless an alternative measure is necessary, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis, to enable a person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the services or facilities.
- Persons with disabilities must be given an opportunity equal to that given to others to obtain, use and benefit from the services or facilities.
- When communicating with a person with a disability, the provider shall do so in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability.
The policy or procedure must also include processes to facilitate feedback regarding the school board’s policy and procedures, including the feedback process itself. School boards are required to include an outline of the steps that will be taken in the event that a complaint is received.
In the same or a different policy, school boards must also identify steps that will be taken in the event that temporary disruptions to accessible facilities or services occur. A process of notice must include providing information regarding any estimated duration of the disruption and describe alternative facilities or services, if any, that are available.
Updated training regarding these policies must be provided to all staff and volunteers. As well, school boards are required to ensure that periodic training is provided when any changes are made to policies and procedures regarding accessibility. The training must include the following:
- How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability;
- How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person;
- How to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of services or facilities to 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 services or facilities.
The Regulation does not include a specific date by which training must be provided, rather it states that “training must be conducted as soon as practicable”. [80.49(3)].
The policies and any accompanying procedures should be made available to the public in a variety of formats to ensure accessibility.
School boards are also advised to conduct random audits to ensure that service providers that they engage are AODA knowledgable and compliant, as obligations will continue to be amended periodically and school boards should ensure that their approaches, policies and training are consistent with those changing obligations.