The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act ("AODA") has imposed a series of obligations on businesses providing goods and services in Ontario. To date, the focus has primarily been on ensuring that customers with accessibility issues are provided with goods and services in a manner that is responsive to and respectful of their needs. As of December 31, 2012, most businesses in Ontario were required to file compliance reports with the Ministry of Community and Social Services affirming that they had implemented accessible customer service policies, provided training to their employees on how to provide service to individuals with accessibility issues, created a feedback process for customers who experienced accessibility issues and that steps had been taken to make these policies available to members of the public.
We understand that businesses are now being contacted by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to follow up on outstanding compliance reports. Employers in Ontario need to know that new obligations and deadlines are coming. As of January 1, 2014, Ontario private sector businesses that have 50 or more employees (referred to in the AODA as "large organizations") and Ontario public sector organizations with less than 50 employees will be required to demonstrate that they have taken further steps to ensure that they meet the needs of both their customers and their employees.
By January 1, 2014, large private sector organizations and small public sector organizations must have implemented the following measures to ensure compliance with the AODA:
- Accessibility Policies: Affected organizations must have developed, implemented and be prepared to maintain policies governing how they will meet their obligations under the AODA. They must post their accessibility policies on their websites and commit to reviewing the policy at least once every five years. The key principles to be reflected in these accessibility policies are dignity, integration and equal opportunity. Organizations can incorporate accessibility policies into existing human rights and diversity policies.
- Accessibility Plans: Affected organizations must also develop, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan which outlines the organization's strategy to prevent and remove barriers. The five year plan should identify short and long term goals and should track both AODA compliance and the achievement of internal goals. We recommend beginning the process by completing an assessment of existing barriers to access and existing practices with respect to human resources and customer service. It is also advisable to seek feedback from customers, employees and clients at the assessment stage. Once completed, the accessibility plan must be posted on the organization's website and be provided to any person who requests a copy. As with the accessibility policy, the accessibility plan must be reviewed regularly.
- Procurement Practices: Small public sector organizations must incorporate accessible designs, features and criteria when procuring or acquiring goods, service or facilities. Although private sector organizations are not caught by this requirement, we recommend that they consider accessibility issues when making significant changes to equipment, facilities or furniture as this will assist with compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and could also enhance customer satisfaction and employee morale.
- Self-Serve Kiosks: Affected organizations must incorporate accessibility features when designing, procuring or acquiring self-serve kiosks.
- Websites: Any new internet websites and web content on those sites must conform with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ("WCAG") 2.0 Level A. WCAG is an internationally accepted standard for internet accessibility and contains guidelines regarding content and accessible formats. This obligation applies to both external websites as well as any internal sites through which employees can access human resources and other policy information.
Although these requirements do not currently apply to small private sector organizations, we recommend initiating steps to achieve compliance now rather than waiting for the January 1, 2015 deadline. Not only will this ensure small organizations are in a good position for the approaching AODA deadlines, it will also assist meeting their existing obligations to both customers and employees under the Human Rights Code.
We draw particular attention to the requirement to develop
accessibility policies and plans because these documents will serve
as the foundation of your organization's compliance with the
AODA and will provide your management and human resources team with
a roadmap for future compliance and accommodation measures. We
strongly recommend considering how these documents will intersect
with your company's human resources practices because more
changes are coming. Beginning in January 2016, large private
section organizations will need to ensure that all of their
existing human resources practices have been revamped to explicitly
consider and respond to accessibility issues in the workplace.
Small private sector organizations must do so by January
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.