This legislation was passed by the Ontario government in 2005 and provides for phased in requirements for breaking down barriers that prevent or limit people with disabilities from participating in a variety of activities in Ontario, including receipt of goods and services, employment, transportation, communication, information and built environment. The goal of the legislation is to achieve full accessibility by 2025. The legislation is enforced by the Ministry of Community and Social Services (the "Ministry").
The implementation of the Act is staggered and phases in five general areas including customer service (for non-governmental organizations by January 1, 2012), employment standards (January 1, 2017), transportation (mainly 2017), information and communication (mainly 2025, but some minor requirements being phased in January 1, 2012) and built environment (no deadline set yet).
The customer service standard's purpose is to ensure that goods and services are accessible to people with disabilities and it applies to all people, businesses and organizations that provide goods and services either directly to the public or to third parties (i.e. other businesses or organizations in Ontario). It requires six main things to be done by companies, including the following:
- Establish policies, procedures and practices regarding the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities. Required to be in writing if more than 20 employees and available to the public if requested.
- Permit support persons and service animals, unless excluded by law and if so, provide alternatives. If charging support persons to enter the premises, must give notice in advance. Required to be in writing if more than 20 employees and available to the public if requested.
- Provide clear notice to the public of disruptions of services and facilities usually used by persons with disabilities. Provide reason for disruptions, length of anticipated disruption and alternate facilities/services. The information must be posted on the premises, website, etc. Required to be in writing if more than 20 employees and available to the public if requested.
- Provide training to staff and volunteers on the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities who deal with members of the public or third parties or employees who develop policies/practices/procedures regarding goods and services. The training must cover the following areas:
a) must review purposes of the AODA.
b) requirements of regulations.
c) how to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disabilities.
d) how to interact with public assistive devices, required service animals, support persons, etc.
e) how to use equipment devices.
f) what to do when problems arise for accessing goods and services.
The training must be done prior to January 1, 2012 and on an on-going basis when changes are made to policies/practices/procedures. The training policy must be confirmed in writing with a summary of the training if more than 20 employees and available to the public if requested.
- Create a process for feedback (receiving and responding) about the manner in which your organization provides goods and services. This feedback process must be in writing, in person, by way of email, etc. and must include what you will do if feedback is received. The process for feedback must be confirmed in writing if you have 20 or more employees and available to the public if requested.
- Notice of availability - you must notify the public that documents are available, if requested, where you have more than 20 employees. The notice must be posted on the premises, website, etc. The format of the notification needs to take into account a person's disability (can agree with disabled person on format).
- An accessibility report must be filed annually with the Director if you have 20 or more employees. There is a specific format for the filing, although it has not been finalized by the government yet. The first deadline for filing the report has also not yet been established.
There is one aspect of employment standards that gets implemented on January 1, 2012 which deals with workplace emergency response information (the majority of the requirements are for 2017). On January 12, 2012 every employer must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees with a disability (if the disability requires individualized information). The employer must also provide workplace emergency response information to the person designated to assist the employee with a disability, if the employee requires assistance and consents to same. In assessing the individualized emergency response for a disabled employee, you need to consider how that disability will impact emergency planning by considering:
- mobility disabilities may affect the ability to independently evacuate the workplace;
- visual disabilities may affect the workers' ability to identify routes, instructions or hazards;
- respiratory disabilities may be exacerbated by smoke, dust, fumes and chemicals; and
- mental health conditions may be exacerbated in an emergency situation.
Certain recommendations of the Ministry to keep in mind when identifying the emergency response information are:
- identify hazards and barriers to successful evacuation;
- do a walk through with the employees;
- conduct a one on one emergency planning session with the employee;
- ensure that the employee is familiar with his or her evacuation options;
- establish a network of co-workers who can assist the person with the disability during emergencies;
- ensure employee knows who belongs to this network; and
- the employee and their network should train separately and additionally from general drills.
Additionally, an earlier phased in requirement under the information and communication standards that comes into effect on January 1, 2012 requires that if an organization prepares emergency procedures and makes the information available to the public, then the organization must also provide the information, upon request, in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports. This is to ensure that everybody has access to the same emergency information in a detailed and timely manner and it puts multiple methods in place to notify individuals of emergency plans and procedures by offering alternative formats. Alternative accessible formats include brail, large print, recorded audio, sign language or maps.
Rather than the Ministry of Labour, it is the Ministry of Community and Social Services that oversees this legislation. Ultimately, if there is non-compliance, the legislation provides for penalties that can go up to $50,000 for an individual and $100,000 a day of non-compliance for a corporation.
As a result of the above, your first steps should be to:
- Draft and incorporate an Accessible Customer Service Plan into your policies and begin to implement it in the workplace.
- Prepare training for required staff on the plan prior to January 1, 2012.
- Consider if you make your emergency response information already available to the public. If you do, that also has to be conveyed in an accessible format for people with disabilities.
- Consider if you have employees with a disability and whether the employees require assistance in an emergency response situation. If they do, develop individualized workplace emergency and response information for each such employee.
- Be prepared to file your accessibility report with the Director sometime in 2012 once the reporting format and deadline have been finalized by the Ministry.
You can access the legislation at:
You can access the Customer Service standard regulation
You can access Ministry information on the AODA at:
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.