Most organizations in Ontario that have at least one employee and provide goods, services or facilities are required to comply with certain requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its regulations.
These requirements are enforced by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. The Ministry has the power to conduct workplace audits and enforce compliance. The AODA also provides for significant fines for non-compliance. A corporation that fails to comply with an order could be liable for fines of up to $100,000 for each day that it is not in compliance. Directors and officers who fail to take all reasonable care to prevent the corporation from committing an offence under the AODA could also be liable for a fine of up to $50,000 for each day the corporation fails to comply.
Although the AODA is still relatively new legislation, a number of requirements are already in force. However, on November 18, 2013, the Toronto Star published an article stating that the majority of private businesses with 20 employees or more are not yet in compliance. The article also states that the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment has ordered the Ministry to send out 2,500 enforcement letters and "will pursue vigorously those businesses that don't respond." Our AODA Compliance Checklist provides a summary of the most common legal requirements currently in effect for private sector organizations, including the requirements under the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the Customer Service Standards).
The Customer Service Standards require organizations that provide goods or services to the public or other third parties to create policies, provide training to employees, ensure that premises accessible to third parties are accessible to persons with disabilities and establish a feedback process and steps to notify the public of a temporary disruption to services. Organizations with 20 or more employees were also required to prepare certain documents and file a compliance report with the Ministry by December 2012.
Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards (the Integrated Standards), organizations that provide goods, services or facilities to members of the public or other third parties are required to take certain steps with respect to policies and training, information and communications, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces and the built environment. The timing for compliance varies according to the particular requirement, whether the organization is public or private and whether the organization is considered to be a "small organization" (i.e., employs fewer than 50 employees) or a "large organization" (i.e., employs 50 or more employees).
Is your organization ready to comply with the Integrated Standards?
Here is a short checklist of current and upcoming requirements under the Integrated Standards for 2014:
- All organizations are currently required to provide workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability if individualized information is necessary and to take certain steps if the employee who receives the individualized workplace emergency response information would require assistance in an emergency. This information must be reviewed in certain circumstances, such as when the employee moves to a different location in the organization.
- If an organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information and makes the information available to the public, the organization is currently required to provide this information in an accessible format upon request.
- Effective January 1, 2014, large organizations will be required to develop, implement and maintain policies governing how they will meet their requirements under the Integrated Standards. These policies shall include a statement of organizational commitment to meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in a timely manner. Large organizations are also required to prepare one or more written documents describing these policies, to make the documents publicly available and to provide them in an accessible format upon request.
- Effective January 1, 2014, large organizations will be required to 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 Integrated Standards. The accessibility plan must be posted on the organization's website, if any, and must be provided in an accessible format upon request. The accessibility plan must be reviewed and updated at least once every five years.
- If a large organization (i.e., an organization with 50 or more employees in Ontario) launches a new public website or undertakes a significant refresh of the existing website on or after January 1, 2014, the site and any of its web content published after January 1, 2012 will be required to conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A, unless an exception applies. While there is no definition of a "significant refresh" under the Integrated Standards, the Ministry has stated that a significant refresh could include, but is not limited to (a) a new look and feel to the website; (b) a change in how users navigate around the website; and/or (c) a major update or change to the content of the website. If more than 50% of the web content on a website is new, this may also be considered a significant refresh. These requirements generally apply to websites and web content (including web-based applications) that are accessible to the public and that the organization controls directly or may otherwise modify through a contractual relationship. However, an organization will not have to comply with these requirements if it can demonstrate that meeting the requirements is not practicable. While the Integrated Standards do not define the term "practicable," they do provide a non-exhaustive list of factors that may be considered in determining whether meeting the requirements are not practicable, namely (a) the availability of commercial software and/or tools and (b) whether the requirement would have a significant impact on the implementation of a project that was planned or initiated before January 1, 2012. Organizations should also be mindful that this requirement continues after January 1, 2014. If your organization is planning a significant refresh of an existing website at any time on or after January 1, 2014, your organization may be required, unless an exception applies, to retroactively modify all web content on that website that was added after January 1, 2012 to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A.
- Large organizations will be required to file an accessibility report every three years, with the first report due on December 31, 2014.
This checklist is not exhaustive. Additional requirements may apply if an organization designs or buys any self-service kiosks or if the organization is in a certain industry, such as education. The Integrated Standards also set out a number of additional requirements that will come into force at a later date.
The Ministry has created an AODA Compliance Wizard to assist organizations in determining which AODA requirements apply to their organization, as well as a number of guides that are linked on our page.
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.