In 2005, the Ontario government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The purpose of the Act is threefold – to develop, implement and enforce standards to achieve accessibility for all Ontarians by 2025. It applies to both public and private organizations in Ontario, including not-for-profit organizations.
While the Act itself does not impose any substantive requirements, it provides for the creation of regulations, referred to as “accessibility standards”. There are five standards that are addressed: accessible customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation and built environment.
The Customer Service Standard was introduced on January 1, 2010, and initially applied to designated public sector organizations. On May 31, 2010, the Ontario government announced that it would integrate the employment, information and communication and transportation standards into one new regulation, entitled Integrated Accessibility Standards.
As of January 1, 2012, health industry organizations will be required to comply with the requirements under both the Customer Service Standard and the Integrated Accessibility Standards.
Customer Service Standard
On January 1, 2012, the Customer Service Standard will apply to private sector organizations, including not-for-profit organizations that provide goods and services to the public or other third parties and employ more than one employee.
Among other requirements, health industry organizations must establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities. In doing so, the organization must use reasonable efforts to ensure consistency with the following principles:
- Goods and services must be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of the person
- Goods and services must be integrated unless an alternative measure is necessary, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis, to enable a person with a disability to obtain goods or services
- Persons with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to obtain, use and benefit from goods and services
The Customer Service Standard also addresses communication requirements, the use of service animals and support persons, training for staff, and the development of a feedback process in relation to the provision of goods and services. Health industry organizations which have 20 or more employees must prepare information related to their policies, practices and procedures and make it available upon request.
Large organizations which have 50 or more employees will be required to file annual accessibility reports demonstrating compliance with the regulatory requirements. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario recommends what must be in the report and how to present the information. An individual who is in an official position of authority in the organization must certify that the report is accurate. Failure to comply or report as required could result in an order to comply and/or monetary penalties. The date for filing has not been made public at this time.
Integrated Accessibility Standards
The Integrated Accessibility Standards present a significant shift in human rights and accessibility law. For health care organizations, they will impact upon human resource practices and the manner in which way the organization does business. There are specific requirements and compliance deadlines depending on the size and type of organization.
It is important to note that the Integrated Accessibility Standards do not replace or limit any requirements or obligations owed to individuals with disabilities under the Human Rights Code or any other applicable legislation. Rather, the integrated standards should be read in conjunction with any other applicable legislation.
The Integrated Accessibility Standards set out minimum standards for each of three areas: information and communication, employment and transportation, as well as general requirements. It requires that employers provide training to their employees, volunteers and certain third parties on the requirements of the accessibility standards. Most notably, this standard also requires that organizations provide training on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities. In addition, the standards require that organizations develop accessibility policies and plans governing how the organization will achieve its accessibility goals within a given timeframe.
In Ontario, health industry organizations may provide services through a mix of operators including both private and not-for-profit. Organizations will be subject to the compliance deadlines set out for either small or large private and not-for-profit organizations depending on the size of the organization. For example, large private and not-for-profit organizations (50 or more employees) must comply with the Integrated Accessibility Standards by January 1, 2016. Small private and not-for profit organizations must comply with the Standard by January 1, 2017, unless an earlier compliance date is otherwise specified.
1. Information and Communications Standard
The information and communication standards address the need for health industry organizations to provide information and communicate in a way that is accessible to individuals with disabilities. This includes providing accessible web content and alternate formats, as well as training for employees, volunteers and third parties, on the requirements of the Standard. To ensure compliance:
- Health industry organizations should review their information processes and communications support, as these may require modification.
- Internet websites and web content must conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0; initially at level A (by January 1, 2014), and then increasing to level AA (by January 1, 2021).
- Any print-based educational material or supplementary training learning resources used in training employees will have to be made accessible, or be conversion-ready, upon request.
2. Employment Accessibility Standards
The employment standard applies to health industry organizations, but does not apply to volunteers or unpaid employees. The standard addresses the creation of accessibility through all aspects of the employment cycle, starting with recruitment, assessment, selection, hiring, and performance management, through to retention. Compliance with this standard requires that:
- All employers notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in their recruitment process.
- All employers notify job applicants when they are selected to participate further in the selection process that accommodation is available upon request, in relation to the materials or processes to be used.
- All employers notify a successful applicant of their policies for accommodating persons with disabilities.
- Where a disabled employee requests it, every employer will be required to consult with the employee to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information needed to perform his or her job.
- All employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to disabled employees.
3. Transportation Standards
These standards were created to eliminate the physical barriers to public transportation and to improve specialized transportation systems. There are also specific standards that apply to organizations that provide transportation services without being primarily engaged in transportation, such as hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities. Specialized transportation service providers must ensure that the manner in which they conduct this service is accessible to all.
In preparation for the new requirements set by the standards under the Act, health industry organizations in Ontario should complete the following steps by the end of 2011:
- Review and update existing customer service, communication accessibility and accommodation policies, practices, or procedures.
- Large organizations (50 or more employees) will have to file an annual accessibility report. Small organizations (fewer than 50 employees) are exempt. Although the date for filing is not yet known, in anticipation, large organizations should prepare written policies governing the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities.
- Ensure that employees receive the required training.
- Review any existing evacuation and emergency procedures and consider whether these procedures should be updated to comply with the Act.
Miller Thomson would be pleased to assist organizations with their requirements under the Act.
The author would like to thank Maddy Toca, Articling Student, for her assistance with this article.