The new Integrated Accessibility Standards (the "IAS"), enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, came into force on July 1, 2011, and is the latest regulation furthering the legislature's goal to make the province of Ontario fully accessible to disabled persons by 2025. The IAS aims to achieve this in part by requiring public and private sector employers to identify, remove and prevent barriers to the access of employment, information and communications, and transportation. However, in so doing the IAS imposes extensive new obligations on employers of which they should be aware.
The IAS applies to "obligated organizations," being the government of Ontario, the legislative assembly, designated public sector organizations and every other person or organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or other third parties and that has at least one employee in Ontario. Designated public sector organizations include municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges, universities and public transportation organizations.
The requirements applicable to an obligated organization vary depending on whether the organization is defined as a "large designated public sector organization," a "small designated public sector organization," a "large organization" or a "small organization." Whether public sector or private, large organizations have 50 or more employees in Ontario and small organizations have at least one, but fewer than 50.
Deadlines for Compliance
With the exception of some earlier compliance deadlines for obligated organizations, namely transportation service providers, compliance with the IAS is to be phased in incrementally over several years beginning, January 1, 2012, with certain requirements not demanding compliance until January 1, 2021. Deadlines for compliance also vary depending on which of the above four categories an obligated organization belongs to. In general, earlier compliance is demanded of the government and designated public sector organizations. Where the deadline for compliance with a requirement by an organization, other than the government, is January 1, 2012, this has been duly noted in this article.
The IAS begins in Part I by establishing certain general requirements for obligated organizations.
Every organization is required to develop, implement and maintain policies governing how the organization achieves or will achieve accessibility through meeting its requirements under the IAS. Organizations, with the exception of small organizations, must also make their accessibility policies publicly available and provide them in an accessible format upon request.
Organizations, except small organizations again, must also establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan which outlines the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its requirements under the IAS. The plan must be posted on the organization's website and be provided in an accessible format upon request.
All organizations are further required to provide training on the requirements of the IAS and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities. Training must be provided to all employees and volunteers, all persons who participate in developing the organization's policies and all other persons who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization.
Information and Communications
Part II of the IAS generally requires that the information and communications of all obligated organizations be available in accessible formats.
Feedback / Accessible formats and communication supports
Organizations must ensure that any processes for receiving and responding to feedback are accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports upon request. In general, accessible formats and communication supports must be provided in a timely manner upon request and at a cost that is not more than the regular cost charged to other persons.
Emergency procedure, plans or public safety information
Any emergency procedures, plans or public safety information prepared by organizations and made available to the public must be provided 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.
Accessible websites and web content
Organizations, other than small organizations, will further be required to make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA.
Educational or training institutions and libraries
The IAS imposes additional information and communications obligations on organizations which are educational or training institutions and libraries. Please contact us for information about these obligations.
Part III of the IAS sets out requirements for all obligated organizations which are employers. These requirements are limited to employees of the organizations and do not apply to volunteers or other non-paid individuals.
Employer organizations must notify employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in recruitment processes. If an applicant selected to participate in a recruitment process requests accommodation, the organization must consult with the applicant and provide or arrange for the provision of suitable accommodation.
Informing of supports
Organizations must inform employees of policies used to support employees with disabilities including, but not limited to, policies on the provision of job accommodation.
Accessible formats and communication supports
When requested by an employee, organizations must consult with and provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for information that is needed in order to perform the employee's job and that is generally available in the workplace.
Workplace emergency response information
Every organization must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the employee's need for accommodation. The deadline for compliance with this requirement is January 1, 2012.
Individual accommodation plans
Organizations, other than small organizations, must develop and have in place a written process for the development of documented individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities.
Return to work plans
Organizations, other than small organizations, must develop and have in place a return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and require disability-related accommodations in order to return to work.
Career development and advancement
All organizations must consider the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities, as well as individual accommodation plans, when assessing employee performance, providing career development and advancement opportunities, and during redeployment.
The IAS in Part IV imposes additional requirements on obligated organizations which are transportation service providers. Please contact us for information about these requirements.
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.