Canada: School Boards Required To Comply With New Accessibility Standards

On January 1, 2010, school boards, universities and colleges and other public sector organizations are required to be in compliance with Regulation 429/07 under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the "Act"). Other providers of goods, services and facilities will be required to comply by January 1, 2012.

The primary purpose of the Act is to develop mandatory accessibility standards that will identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. The government intends to achieve the Act's purpose through five regulations establishing "accessibility standards". Each regulation is based on the activities of any given organization, namely whether an organization:

  1. provides goods, services or facilities;
  2. employs persons in Ontario;
  3. offers accommodation;
  4. owns or occupies a building, structure or premises; or
  5. is engaged in a prescribed business, activity or undertaking or meets such other requirements as may be prescribed.

The Customer Service Standard addresses the provision of "goods, services and facilities". It is the first regulation to come into force, with the remaining four regulations to be developed and enacted in due course.

Application To Education Sector

Designated public sector organizations are required to comply with the Customer Service Standard effective January 1, 2010. For the purpose of the regulation, the following are designated as "public sector organizations" under the regulation:

  • every district school board as defined in section 1 of the Education Act;
  • every college of applied arts and technology established under the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002;
  • every university in Ontario, including its affiliated and federated colleges, that receives operating grants from the Government of Ontario.

As noted earlier, providers of education goods, services and facilities outside the public sector will be required to comply with the Customer Service Standard by January 1, 2012.

Main Requirements

Compliance with the Customer Service Standard require organizations to establish and review policies, practices and procedures that are consistent with the following principles:

  1. The goods or services must be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities.
  2. The provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities and others must be integrated unless an alternate measure is necessary, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis, to enable a person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the goods or services.
  3. Persons with disabilities must be given an opportunity equal to that given to others to obtain, use and benefit from the goods or services.

Furthermore, the policies must deal with the use of assistive devices by persons with disabilities to obtain, use or benefit from the organization's services or the availability, if any, of other measures which enable them to do so.

The Customer Service Standard requires organizations to communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that "takes into account the person's disability." This will necessarily require a case-by-case assessment of how to best communicate with a person given his or her particular disability.

Presence Of Service Animals

The use of sevice animals by persons with disabilities must also be addressed in policies, practices and procedures. Where a person with a disability is accompanied by a "guide dog or other service animal", the organization shall permit the person to enter the premises with the animal and keep the animal with him or her, unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. The situations in which an animal may be excluded by law include provincial and municipal laws concerning dangerous dogs, as well as health and safety legislation.

Where a service animal is excluded by law from the premises, the organization must ensure that other measures are available to enable the person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the education provider's services.

It should be noted that a service animal is not limited to a "guide dog" as defined in the Blind Persons' Rights Act, but also includes a service animal that is used by a person with a disability "for reasons relating to his or her disability" and where the person has provided a "letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability." The Customer Service Standard also imposes new requirements regarding a support person who accompanies a person with a disability to assist him or her with access to goods or services. This may be of some interest to school boards in terms of accompaniment on excursions or specific cases of daily accompaniment.

Training For Staff

Employees and volunteers must receive training about providing services to persons with disabilities. Such training must include a review of the purposes of the Act, the requirements of the Customer Service Standard and instruction about the following matters:

  1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability.
  2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person.
  3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider's premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability.
  4. What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider's goods or services.

Training must be provided as soon as practicable after the employee or volunteer is engaged, and must also be provided on an ongoing basis.

The organization must prepare a document describing its training policy, including a summary of the contents of the training and details of when training is to be provided. Furthermore, the organization is required to keep records of the training provided, including the dates on which training is provided and the number of individuals to whom it is provided.

Documents To Be Made Available

The following documents must be provided upon request:

  • ` a document describing its policies, practices and procedures regarding services for persons with disabilities,
  • a document describing its policies, practices and procedures with respect to service animals and support persons,
  • a document that sets out the steps to be taken in connection with a temporary disruption, and
  • a document describing the organization's feedback process regarding service to persons with disabilities.

Notice Of Availability Of Documents

The organization is required to provide notice that documents required by the Customer Service Standard are available upon request. The notice may be given by posting the information at a conspicuous place on the premises, by posting it on the organization's website or any other "reasonable method in the circumstances."

Format Of Documents

Where the Customer Service Standard requires an organization to provide a copy of a document to a person with a disability (e.g. a copy of the policies, practices and procedures), the organization must give the person a document in a format that "takes into account the person's disability."

Other Accessibility And Disability Obligations

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 is another layer of obligations with respect to accommodating disabilities. School boards, colleges and universities remain obligated to comply with the Education Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code, collective agreements, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Employment Standards Act, 2000, all of which impose requirements and obligations respecting disability, workplace injury and accommodation issues for employees as well as those who receive education services. While the Customer Service Standard adds another layer of policy and procedure, the overarching principles of inclusion and accommodation for persons with disabilities is a familiar theme and one with which the education sector has significant experience.

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