The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA) became law on June 13, 2005. The primary purpose of the AODA is to improve access for people with disabilities to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, and buildings by 2025. The government seeks to achieve the AODA's purpose through mandating five accessibility standards.
For Ontario firms operating in the private sector, the first compliance deadline is January 1, 2012.
The AODA's five accessibility standards are mandatory and cover five areas:
- Customer Service
- Information and Communications
- Transportation, and
- Built Environment (this accessibility standard is still being developed).
The Customer Service accessibility standard came into force through Regulation 429/07 on January 1, 2008 and has a compliance deadline of January 1, 2012. Certain requirements of the Employment accessibility standard also have a compliance deadline of January 1, 2012. The other accessibility standards have staggered compliance dates between now and 2025.
HOW THE CUSTOMER SERVICE ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD MAY APPLY TO YOUR ORGANIZATION
The Customer Service accessibility standard applies to every designated public sector organization and every other person or organization that provides "goods or services" to the public or other third parties and that has at least one employee in Ontario.
COMPLYING WITH THE CUSTOMER SERVICE ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD
It is anticipated that 360,000 private and not-for-profit sector organizations will need to ensure they are in compliance with the Customer Service accessibility standard as of January 1, 2012. This will involve:
- Developing policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to people with disabilities. If a firm employs more than 20 people in Ontario, such policies, practices and procedures must be in writing and made readily available to the public upon request.
- Using reasonable efforts to ensure that the policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity. The standard does not outline what a "reasonable effort" entails, as it will be dependent on each particular circumstance.
- Allowing people with disabilities to use their own personal assistive devices to access the organization's goods and services.
- Communicating with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
- Allowing people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal or providing alternative measures if service animals are excluded under another law.
- Allowing people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services and providing advance notice of any admission fees for support persons.
- Providing notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access or use goods or services are temporarily disrupted (i.e. elevator disruptions).
- Providing training to staff, volunteers or contractors who interact with the public or other third parties on the organization's behalf about the provision of its goods or services to people with disabilities; and
- Establishing 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. Information about the feedback process should be made readily available to the public.
The staff training outlined above should be provided to existing staff by January 1, 2012 and as soon as possible for new staff who take on duties that involve interaction with the public or the development of policies.
If a firm employs more than 20 employees in Ontario, it must keep records of the training, including the dates of the training and the number of individuals trained. It is also recommended that a record of the names of those trained be retained.
The compliance deadline under the Employment accessibility standard will require firms, by January 1, 2012, to provide individualized workplace emergency response information to any employees who have a disability, if the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee's disability.
REMINDER OF OTHER RECOMMENDED OR REQUIRED EMPLOYMENT POLICIES
In addition to the policies required under the AODA, employers in Ontario are required to have the following additional policies:
- A general Occupational Health and Safety Policy, Workplace Harassment Policy and Workplace Violence Policy – Occupational Health and Safety Act ; and
- Pay Equity Plans (for employers with greater than 10+ employees) – Pay Equity Act.
The workplace harassment and violence policies are a recent requirement. The duty to create such policies and programs is found in Bill 168, the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace) which came into force on June 15, 2010.
There are several other requirements under Bill 168, including an obligation to conduct a workplace violence risk assessment and to create programs to reduce and address incidents of workplace violence.
Several other policies are highly recommended, including equipment use and social media policies and employment standards policies (i.e. overtime, vacation pay, public holidays, leaves etc.). Recent case-law has suggested that without a social media policy, employers may find it difficult to monitor an employee's use of work-related internet and email or have difficulty terminating an employee for employment-related misconduct as it relates to the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
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.