As of January 1, 2012, all employers in Ontario who provide goods and services to members of the public and have at least one employee in Ontario must comply with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the “Customer Service Standards”), issued under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the “Act”). The Customer Service Standards require organizations in Ontario to take proactive steps to make their goods and services more accessible to persons with disabilities. This includes, amongst other specific requirements, the need to implement policies and procedures to govern the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities that will ensure integrated and equal opportunity to use and benefit from the service, including the use of assistive devices, service animals and support persons.  Employees are also obligated to train staff and volunteers to serve persons with disabilities.  Employers with at least 20 employees in Ontario are also required to prepare documents describing their policies, including the details of their training program and to maintain records of the training provided.  Notice that these documents are available upon request and must be provided to the public by posting a notice on the property, on the employer’s website, or other reasonable method.  Failing to comply with the Customer Service Standards by the January 1, 2012 deadline may result in frequent workplace inspections, compliance orders, administrative fines and/or prosecution in the courts.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the Customer Service Standards are only the first stage of compliance required under the Act, which intends to identify and remove any barriers that prohibit persons with disabilities from fully participating in all aspects of society in the same way as persons that are not disabled. To achieve this goal, in addition to the Customer Service Standards, the Ontario government has also enacted the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. This Regulation combines accessibility standards in three additional areas: information and communication, employment and transportation. As compliance timelines for these additional standards begin as early as January 1, 2014, now is an important time to determine how these new standards will impact your organization and business.