In 2005, the Ontario Government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 ("AODA") to develop standards designed to eliminate barriers to accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in the areas of customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation and the built environment. Collectively, the accessibility standards will have significant legal and financial implications on how organizations do business in Ontario.
The Customer Service Standard ("CSS") is the only accessibility standard in force, to date. However, the Integrated Accessibility Standards, which incorporate the employment, information and communication and transportation standards, will become law on July 1, 2011. Please find below a summary of the key requirements of the CSS with a similar summary of the Integrated Accessibility Standards to follow.
Accessible Customer Service By January 1, 2012
The CSS requires organizations to accommodate the needs of disabled customers in the provision of goods and services.
Since the AODA is Ontario law, the CSS only applies to provincially-regulated employers in Ontario. With few exceptions, this standard applies to organizations that provide goods and services to the public or a third party business or organization and have at least one employee in Ontario ("Provider"). In addition, where a Provider contracts with another organization to provide goods and services on its behalf, the Provider must ensure that the third party organization also complies with the CSS.
By January 1, 2010, almost all public sector organizations in Ontario were required to comply with the CSS and by January 1, 2012, all private sector organizations in Ontario will have to do the same.
Overview Of Obligations
The CSS imposes the following principal obligations upon Providers:
- Policies and Procedure – Establish policies and procedures regarding the provision of goods and services to people with disabilities, including in respect of:
- use of assistive devices and services available to the public; and
- support persons' and service animals' access to business premises.
- Communication – Develop alternate modes of communication with disabled individuals.
- Notice of Disruption – Develop a procedure to notify of a disruption to a facility or service and identify alternative facilities or services.
- Training – Provide training on the following issues to all individuals who may interact with the public or influence the development of policies, practices and procedures related to customer service:
- the purpose of the AODA and the requirements of the CSS;
- policies and procedures;
- interacting and communicating with disabled people who have different restrictions, use assistive devices or have a service animal or support person;
- use of assistive devices available on the organization's premises; and
- what to do if a disabled person is having difficulty accessing the Provider's services, including advising of potential accommodations.
- Feedback – Develop a process for receiving and responding to feedback on the provision of goods and services to people with disabilities.
- Documentation/Accessibility Report – If the Provider is a private sector organization with 20 or more employees or a designated public sector organization, it must disclose additional documentation and file an accessibility report with the Ontario Government.
While the AODA is premised on a system of self-certification, due to significant financial penalties, non-compliance is not an option for most employers. Offences carry significant fines of up to $50,000 for a director or officer of a corporation and $100,000 for a corporation, for every day or part day that the offence occurs.
Implications For Employers
There is no single way to provide accessibility for all disabled persons and, as a result, compliance with the AODA, and accessibility more generally, is an ongoing process.
All Providers will have to comply with the CSS in less than one year. Considering the significant obligations prescribed in this standard, Ontario employers are well advised to contact their legal counsel now to assist with developing and implementing the preparation of policies, procedures and conducting a training program.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
© Copyright 2011 McMillan LLP