Ontario became the first province in Canada to pass legislation to develop mandatory accessibility standards when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, (AODA), became law on June 13, 2005. The act aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities, in key areas of daily living. The goal is to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.WHO IS AFFECTED AND WHEN?
- The AODA Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (Ontario Regulation 429/07) became law on January 1, 2008. The Ontario government and other designated public-sector organizations were required to comply by January 1, 2010.
- The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service also apply to private and non-profit sector employers that have at least one employee in Ontario, and that provide goods or services to members of the public or other organizations.
- Private and non-profit sector organizations were required to comply by January 1, 2012 and those with 20 or more employees were required to file a written report with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario by December 31 2012.
WHY BECOME ACCESSIBLE?It is estimated that people with disabilities have discretionary spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada. Improving accessibility is not only the right thing to do; it’s also a good business strategy. Disability impacts more than 15% of Ontario’s population or about 1.85 million people. That’s one in seven people already and the number is increasing as our population ages. Over the next 20 years the number will rise to one in five. Today, more than 40% of people over age 65 suffer from a disability. More than half of the population has a friend or a loved-one with a disability, and is influenced by them when deciding which businesses to solicit.In addition, people with disabilities also represent a large, relatively untapped source of skilled workers who could solve many of Ontario’s employer needs over the coming years. Hiring people with disabilities is proven to increase overall employee satisfaction and loyalty.WHAT DO I NEED TO DO AS A BUSINESS OWNER/STAKEHOLDER?Eight requirements apply to all organizations with one employee or more:
- Establish a set of policies, practices and procedures on how you and your employees will provide goods and/or services to customers with disabilities.
- Allow customers with disabilities to use personal assistive devices e.g. hearing aids, wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, to access your services and/or goods
- Communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability
- Train all staff to provide accessible customer service. The regulation is clear that it isn’t just front line staff but also management that must understand how to provide accessible customer service. You must also train volunteers and contractors if they will be acting on your behalf with patients, clients or customers.
- Allow people with disabilities to bring a guide dog or service animal with them to your premises, unless otherwise prohibited by law. For example, animals are not allowed by law in a restaurant kitchen or an operating theatre in a hospital.
- Permit people with disabilities who require a support person to bring that person with them. If you charge a fee, your organization can decide whether to waive or lower the fee for the support person.
- Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access your goods or services are temporarily disrupted.
- Establish a process for people to provide feedback on how you provide goods and/or services to people with disabilities.
Organizations and businesses with 20 or more employees are also required to prepare written policies, practices and procedures. Smaller organizations and businesses need to develop such policies, practices and procedures and communicate them to all employees, but don’t have to have them written down. Organizations and businesses with 20 or more employees also need to file regular compliance reports. The first filing deadline was December 31, 2012. Detailed instructions can be found by clicking on this reporting link to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. The on-line checklist reports are quick and easy to complete.WHERE TO BEGIN? WHAT DO I NEED TO DO? HOW DO I LEARN MORE?Since the January 1, 2012 and December 31st 2012 deadlines have passed, you’re probably wondering how to get started to achieve compliance, if you haven’t begun the process already; or maybe you’ve begun the process, but you’re not clear on what else you need to do achieve compliance:• Begin by clicking here to read Ontario Regulation 429/07 concerning the AODA Customer Service Standard.• Next visit the Access Ontario website for an AODA compliance checklist, accessibility resources, AODA training, workshops, webinars and plans/templates to help your organization become compliant.• Businesses with 20 or more employees in Ontario were required to file a Customer Service Accessibility Compliance Report with the Ministry by December 31, 2012. The Compliance Report can be filed online and requires businesses to answer a number of questions regarding their compliance with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.Still feeling overwhelmed? You can always leverage your complementary HR Consultant services at Beneplan. We can guide you through the process. We’re available at +1 (647) 943 0247 or +1 800 387 1670 or you can email us at email@example.com. Our work hours are Monday to Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm to assist you with your HR needs.