If you are a private sector organization that provides goods or services directly to the public, or to other businesses or organizations, you are required to be fully compliant with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulation (the Customer Standard) set out in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the Act) by January 1, 2012. Providing goods or services “to other businesses and organizations” captures businesses such as consultants, manufacturers and wholesalers, as well as providers of other business and professional services.

The Customer Standard is just one accessibility standard set out under the Act, and the only standard that is currently law. The following accessibility standards are not yet law, or are currently being developed:

  • customer service;
  • employment;
  • information and communications;
  • public transportation; and
  • built environment.

The accessibility standards are being developed by committees drawn from persons within the disabled, business and public sector communities. These committees are tasked with: (i) developing proposed accessibility standards; (ii) submitting initial proposed standards for public review; (iii) revising the proposed standards to incorporate public input; and (iv) submitting a final proposed standard to the government for consideration as law. Once developed and made into law, these accessibility standards will stipulate requirements and timelines that businesses and organizations will have to adhere to in order to be compliant with the Act.

Therefore, if your organization employs one or more person and provides goods or services to the public or to other businesses or organizations, the January 1, 2012 deadline (as well as the other accessibility standards) should be on your radar screen, as this is another obligation that employers must now concern themselves with.

Standards that have become law

Of the five accessibility standards set out above, thus far only the Customer Standard has become law. It came into effect on January 1, 2008. Public sector organizations had to meet the requirements of the Customer Standard by January 1, 2010, and private sector and non-profit organizations must follow suit by January 1, 2012. The remaining accessibility standards are currently being finalized.

Requirements of the Customer Standard

In order to comply with the Customer Standard, all businesses or organizations that provide goods or services to the public or to other third parties in Ontario are legally required to:

  1. Establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to people with disabilities.
  2. Set a policy on allowing people to use their own personal assistive devices to access the organization’s goods and use the organization’s services and any other measures the organization offers (assistive devices, services or methods) to enable people to access the goods and use the organization’s services.
  3. Use reasonable efforts to ensure that the organization’s policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity.
  4. Communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
  5. Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who interact with the public or other third parties on the organization’s behalf on a number of topics as outlined in the customer service standard.
  6. Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who are involved in developing the organization’s policies, practices and procedures on the provision of goods or services on a number of topics as outlined in the customer service standard.
  7. Allow people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal in those areas of the premises that are open to the public, unless the animal is excluded by another law. If a service animal is excluded by law, use other measures to provide services to the person with a disability.
  8. Permit people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services in premises open to the public or third parties.
  9. Where admission fees are charged, provide notice ahead of time on what admission, if any, would be charged for a support person of a person with a disability.
  10. Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access or use the organization’s goods or services are temporarily disrupted.
  11. Establish a process for people to provide feedback on how the organization provides goods or services to people with disabilities and how the organization will respond to any feedback and take action on any complaints. Make the information about the organization’s feedback process readily available to the public.

There are additional documentation requirements for public sector organizations and organizations with 20 or more employees. These organizations must:

  • document in writing their accessible customer service policies, practices and procedures;
  • notify their customers that these documents are available upon request; and
  • provide information in the required document(s), when providing them to a person with a disability, in a format that takes into account their disability.

Accessibility Report

To ensure that businesses and organizations are complying with the requirements of the Customer Standard, they must file an annual online accessibility report with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. All public sector organizations must file their report annually by March 31st, and the deadline for non-public sector organizations is yet to be determined. Organizations with fewer that 20 employees (except for public sector organizations) are exempted from this requirement.

Standards Not Yet Law

Built Environment Standard

The final proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard, which provides recommendations to government on how to remove barriers for people with disabilities in the places and spaces that they work, live, shop and play, has been submitted to the Minister of Community and Social Services, who will begin the process for consideration as law. Should this standard become law, it will apply to anyone involved in building construction, for example, designers, builders, property owners and operators of buildings or public areas such as parks, trails and playgrounds.

Integration of Employment Standard and Remaining Standards

On May 31, 2010, the Ontario government announced that the Employment, Information and Communications, and Transportation standards will be integrated into one streamlined regulation, called the Integrated Accessibility Regulation (the Accessibility Regulation). The Accessibility Regulation will prescribe requirements in the following areas:

  • General;
  • Employment;
  • Information and Communications;
  • Transportation; and
  • Compliance and Enforcement Initiatives.

The goal of the Employment Standard component is to help employers create equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The proposed standard means that obligated organizations will have to:

  • deliver accessibility awareness training to employees;
  • accommodate persons with disabilities in the recruitment process;
  • develop individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities, upon request;
  • deliver individualized workplace emergency information to employees with disabilities;
  • take into account the accommodation needs of employees with disabilities in existing performance management, career development and redeployment processes; and
  • develop return-to-work procedures (that utilize individual accommodation plans where appropriate) for employees who were absent due to a non-workplace injury or illness.  

The proposed Accessibility Regulation is currently posted for final public review and comment here. The government will accept feedback on the Accessibility Regulation until March 18, 2011, and will consider these comments as it finalizes the regulation. The final Accessibility Regulation will then be made public and submitted to the Minister of Community and Social Services, who will begin the process for consideration as law. In addition, the government is seeking public comments on a proposed change to the Customer Standard, which would allow the compliance requirements under the Accessibility Regulation to apply to the Customer Standard.

Enforcement

The Act grants the Deputy Minister power to appoint one or more inspectors to determine whether the Act and its regulations are being complied with. The inspectors have the power to enter places of business and dwellings and require the production of any documentation deemed relevant, remove such documentation and question any persons present on matters relevant to the inspection. If a Director deems that a person or organization has contravened the Act, it can make an order that the person or organization do any or all of the following:

  1. File an accessibility report that complies with the requirements of the Act within the time specified in the order.
  2. Provide the Director with such reports or information as may be required within the time specified in the order.
  3. Pay an administrative penalty.

Non-compliance with an order is an offence, which upon conviction leaves the convicted person or corporation liable for a fine of not more than $50,000 (person) or $100,000 (corporation) for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur.