The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is one of many pieces of legislation dealing with accommodation of persons with disabilities in Ontario. The AODA mandates the creation of so-called "Accessibility Standard(s)" that set specific accessibility obligations for specific categories of organizations. To date, five Accessibility Standards have been proposed, including the Customer Service Standard, the only one to have become law.
Employers and organizations are only beginning to have to grapple with AODA obligations, despite the AODA having received Royal Assent over four years ago. This is because of the AODA's delayed compliance timelines and the long process mandated by the AODA for the creation of Accessibility Standards.
Yet as these Accessibility Standards begin to come on line, the time is right for employers to consider these questions:
- How does the AODA fit into the overall legislative scheme?
- How does one participate in the development of Accessibility Standards?
- How will the Customer Service Standard impact employers?
- What will the proposed Employment Standard look like?
- How will the AODA likely be administered and enforced?
Here is a brief overview for you.
The AODA within the Overall Legislative Scheme
Employers should understand that the AODA does not diminish the obligations imposed by any other law. In the case of a conflict between the AODA and another law or regulation, the one that governs is the one that provides for the highest level of accessibility. As such, the AODA's obligations must be reviewed alongside other legislative accessibility and accommodation requirements.
Participating in Developing Accessibility Standards
Under the AODA, standards committees create proposed Accessibility Standards. This involves a public process where interested stakeholders may provide suggestions and comments regarding the content of each Accessibility Standard.
The proposed Accessibility Standards are then made available for a 45-day period for broader public comment at the Ministry of Community and Social Services website, (http://www.accesson.ca/mcss/english/pillars/accessibilityOntario) where further information about how to submit comments on the proposed Accessibility Standards can also be found. The Minister then decides whether to recommend that the proposed Accessibility Standard become a regulation.
The Customer Service Standard
The Customer Service Standard will apply to designated public sector organizations on January 1, 2010 and to all other goods or services providers on January 1, 2012. Employers should be aware that organizations with at least 20 employees in Ontario must ensure that people involved with providing services receive specific training on providing services to persons with disabilities.
The Proposed Employment Standard
The proposed Employment Standard was released for public review between February and May of this year. If passed as law, this standard would apply to all organizations with paid employees in the private and the public sectors. The requirements and compliance deadlines would vary based on the size of the organization.
The proposed standard would impose certain obligations. Here are some highlights:
- A Policy Statement governing the inclusive design of employment systems and processes and the removal of barriers for those with disabilities;
- Policies and Training implementing the Policy Statement;
- Recruitment, Assessment, Selection and Hiring Requirements, including developing, adopting and maintaining specific types of procedures for accommodating employees;
- Retention Requirements, including specific requirements for retaining and accommodating employees with disabilities, such as creating individual accommodation plans; and
- Making Specific Categories of Information and Communication Accessible by placing them in formats compliant with the Accessible Information and Communications Standard (which has not been adopted yet).
Administration and Enforcement of the AODA
Although this administrative scheme is really only beginning to take effect, you should be aware of certain important elements:
- Annual Reporting Requirements will be imposed on many organizations relating to the Accessibility Standards with which they must comply. The AODA permits organizations to avoid this reporting requirement where the organization agrees with the Minister to exceed its obligations under the Accessibility Standard in another respect.
- Inspectors will monitor compliance with the AODA.
- Directors will be responsible for the application of the AODA, making compliance orders where a person or organization has contravened the AODA, and ordering that an organization pay administrative penalties. The amounts of such penalties have not been established yet.
- Offences will carry penalties of up to $100,000 for corporations and $50,000 for individuals for each day or part of a day on which an offence occurs.
- Appeals of Director's Orders to a Tribunal are possible, but, at present, no such tribunal has been designated for this purpose.
Lessons for Employers
We expect that many of the questions relating to how the AODA will be applied and enforced will be answered with the requirement that designated public sector employees comply with the Customer Service Standard beginning on January 1, 2010. For now, employers should stay tuned for the development of the proposed Employment Standard.
You should take note of your obligations under the Customer Service Standard and prepare to implement all required procedures by the timeline that applies to your organization.
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.