On June 3, 2011, the Ontario government released the final Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (the Integrated Standard) under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA). The Integrated Standard combined three separate accessibility standards: information and communication; employment; and transportation. The Information and Communications Standards' focus is to ensure that information and communications relating to the provision of goods and services are accessible to persons with disabilities, while the Employment Standards set out how organizations are to incorporate accessibility measures for persons with disabilities, both in recruitment processes and during employment. The aim of the Transportation Standards is to prevent and remove barriers that persons with disabilities may face when attempting to access transportation services.
The Integrated Standard came into force on July 1, 2011 and will be implemented in phases according to its staggered compliance deadlines.
The following is a highlight of the requirements as set out in the Integrated Standard, and is not intended to be a comprehensive summary. Not all compliance deadlines are referred to, and where the deadline is January 1, 2012, it has been specified . Otherwise, we encourage you to seek further advice or consult the legislation for particulars.
The Integrated Standard applies to any non-profit, public or private organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or other third parties, and has at least one employee in Ontario (Obligated Organization). The requirements placed on any Obligated Organization vary according to whether it is:
(i) a Government of Ontario entity;
(ii) a large designated public sector organization;
(iii) a small designated public sector organization;
(iv) a large not-for-profit or private organization; or
(v) a small not-for-profit or private sector organization.
The Integrated Standard classifies an organization as "large" when it has 50 or more employees in Ontario, and "small" when it has less than 50 employees in Ontario.
The following requirements are applicable to nearly all Obligated Organizations, with varying deadlines for compliance, ranging from January 1, 2012 (the Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly) to January 1, 2016. We encourage you to seek further advice or consult the legislation for further information regarding applicable compliance deadlines.
1. Establishment of Accessibility Policies
Obligated Organizations are required to develop, implement and maintain policies on how they will achieve accessibility in accordance with the Integrated Standard. Obligated Organizations (other than small not-for-profit or private sector organizations) will be required to include a statement of organizational commitment; prepare written documents describing their policies; make those documents publicly available and provide them in an accessible format upon request.
2. Accessibility Plans
Obligated Organizations (save not-for-profit and small organizations) will be required to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan, outlining the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet the requirements of the Integrated Standard. This plan must be posted on the organization's website (if any) and provided in an accessible format. The plan must be reviewed and updated at least once every five years.
3. Procuring or Acquiring Goods, Services or Facilities
Designated public sector organizations and applicable government entities will be required to incorporate "accessibility criteria and features" when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities, unless it is not practicable to do so. If it is not practicable to do so, the organization must provide an explanation upon request.
4. Self-Service Kiosks
Designated public sector organizations and applicable government entities will be required to incorporate accessibility features, while private and not-for-profit organizations shall have regard to accessibility, when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks.
All Obligated Organizations must provide training on the Integrated Standard's requirements as well as the Human Rights Code (as it pertains to persons with disabilities) to their employees, volunteers, persons who participate in developing the organization's policies, and all other persons who provide goods and services on behalf of the organization. The training must occur as soon as practicable and following any changes to the applicable policies. The training shall be appropriate to the duties of the particular individual, and most Obligated Organizations are required to keep training records, including the date of the training and the individuals trained.
6. Filing of Accessibility Reports
Small organizations are exempted from the requirement to file accessibility reports under the Integrated Standard.
Information and Communications Standards
Those Obligated Organizations with processes for receiving and responding to feedback are required to ensure that the processes are accessible by providing accessible formats and communication supports, upon request.
2. Accessible Formats and Communication Supports
Upon request, Obligated Organizations must provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for persons with disabilities in a timely manner that takes into account the person's accessibility needs; and at a cost not exceeding the regular cost charged to other persons. In order to assess a person's accessibility needs, the organization must consult with the person making the request. The organization must also notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports.
3. Emergency Procedure, Plans or Public Safety Information
Obligated Organizations that prepare emergency procedures, plans or public safety information and make the information available to the public must provide the information in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports as soon as practicable, upon request. The deadline for compliance with this requirement is January 1, 2012.
4. Accessible Websites and Web Content
Nearly all Obligated Organizations will be required will be required to make their existing internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 at Level A, and increasing to Level AA. By January 1, 2014, new websites and web content will have to conform to WCAG 2.0, and save for a few limited exceptions, all websites and web content must conform to WCAG 2.0 by January 1, 2021.
5. Educational and Training Resources and Materials
Those organizations governed by the Education Act, the Post-Secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005, and colleges of applied arts and technologies, as well as any public or private organizations that provide diploma or certificate courses under the Education Act, will be required to provide educational or training resource materials in an accessible format if "notification of need" is given. The materials may be provided by procuring, through purchase or obtaining by other means, an accessible or conversion ready electronic format, or if not available, by arranging for the provision of a comparable resource in an accessible or conversion ready electronic format. This will apply to student records and information on programs as well.
6. Training to Educators
School boards and educational and training institutions will be required to provide their educators with accessibility awareness training on accessible program or course delivery and instruction. Records must be kept of the training provided, including dates on which the training was provided and the number of individuals trained.
7. Producers of Educational or Training Material
Obligated Organizations that are producers of training or educational textbooks and of print-based educational or training supplementary learning resources for educational and training institutions will be required to make accessible or conversion ready versions of their textbooks and other materials available upon request.
8. Libraries of Educational and Training Institutions
Libraries of educational and training institutions will be required to provide, procure or otherwise acquire an accessible or conversion ready format of print, digital or multimedia resources or materials, upon request. This requirement does not apply to special collections, archival materials, rare books or donations.
9. Public Libraries
Public libraries will be required to provide access to, or arrange for, the provision of access to accessible materials where they exist, make information about the availability of accessible materials publicly available, and provide that information in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports upon request. This requirement does not apply to special collections, archival materials, rare books or donations.
The employment standards set out within the Integrated Standard apply only to those Obligated Organizations that employ individuals. The employment standards will not apply to the utilization of volunteers and other non-paid individuals. Whether the term "employee" will be interpreted to include dependent or independent contractors remains to be seen, as "employee" is not defined within the Integrated Standard.
The following employment standards must be complied with by the following deadlines (subject to limited exceptions):
- Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly: January 1, 2013
- Large designated public sector organizations: January 1, 2014
- Small designated public sector organizations: January 1, 2015
- Large private and not-for-profit organizations: January 1, 2016
- Small private and not-for-profit organizations: January 1, 2017
Employers will be required to notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in their recruitment process.
2. Recruitment, Assessment or Selection Process
Upon being chosen to participate in an assessment or selection process, employers must notify job applicants that accommodations are available upon request in relation to the materials or processes to be used. If a selected applicant requests an accommodation, employers must then consult with the applicant and provide or arrange for the provision of suitable accommodation that takes into account the applicant's accessibility needs due to disability.
3. Notice to Successful Applicants
Employers must notify the successful applicant of their policies for accommodating persons with disabilities.
4. Informing Employees of Supports
Employers will be required to inform their employees of its policies, as well as the updates to such policies, to support employees with disabilities, including information regarding job accommodations that take into account an employee's accessibility needs due to disability. New employees are to receive this information as soon as practicable after they commence employment.
5. Accessible Formats and Communication Supports
Upon request by a disabled employee, employers must consult with the employee to provide or arrange to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information needed to perform his or her job and information that is generally available to other employees. In determining the suitability of an accessible format or communication support, employers shall consult with the employee making the request.
6. Workplace Emergency Response Information
Employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to disabled employees if it is required based on the employee's disability and whether the employer is aware of the need for accommodation. This information must be provided as soon as practicable upon the employer being made aware of the need for such accommodation. This individualized emergency response information may be shared with another employee designated by the employer to assist the disabled employee, with the disabled employee's consent. Individualized workplace emergency response information must be reviewed if the disabled employee moves to a different work location in the organization, when his or her overall accommodation needs or plans are reviewed, and when the employer reviews its general emergency response policies. The deadline for compliance with this requirement is January 1, 2012.
7. Documented Individual Accommodation Plans
Employers (other than employers that are small not-for-profit or private sector organizations) shall develop and establish a written process for the development of individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities. The Integrated Standard sets out elements that must be included in such individual accommodation plans, such as the means by which the employee is assessed, the steps taken to protect the privacy of the employees information, and the manner by which an employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert at the employer's expense.
8. Return to Work Process
Every employer (other than an employer that is a small not-for-profit or private sector organization) must develop and establish a return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and that require accommodation upon return to work, and shall document the return to work process. The return to work process shall outline the steps the employer will take to facilitate the return to work, and shall incorporate documented individual accommodation plans.
9. Performance Management, Career Development and Advancement, Redeployment
Employers that utilize performance management, provide career development and advancement to employees, or engage in employee redeployment will be required to take into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities, as well as individual accommodation plans, when utilizing the above-mentioned processes.
The details of the transportation standards are beyond the scope of this post, and may be discussed in an additional review of the Integrated Standard. However, we would note that the transportation standards are technical, lengthy, set out numerous accessibility standards and should be carefully reviewed by any organizations that provide transportation services to the public.
The Integrated Standard sets out a series of compliance provisions that apply not only to the Integrated Standard, but also the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. The Integrated Standard enables a director to assess and levy an administrative penalty based on: (i) the severity of the impact of the contravention; (ii) the contravention history of the person or organization in question over the two current reporting cycles (as defined in the Integrated Standard); and (iii) the nature of the organization. The administrative penalties can be levied on a daily basis to a maximum of $100,000.00 for a corporation, and $50,000.00 for an individual or unincorporated association.
Also of note, the License Appeal Tribunal has been designated as the tribunal for hearing matters arising out of the AODA.
The Integrated Standard is a substantive part of the AODA, and sets out a broad spectrum of requirements for Obligated Organizations in Ontario. As certain compliance deadlines under the Integrated Standard overlap with the Customer Service Standard, organizations are advised to take a pro-active approach to compliance, in order to ensure that they are acting in accordance with the AODA. The only remaining standard yet to be released under the AODA is the Built Environment Standard, which is still under government review. We will continue to keep you apprised of AODA developments as they occur.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.