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On January 1, 2012, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the “Customer Service Regulation”) made pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) will apply to all private sector organizations in Ontario with one or more employees that provide goods and services to the general public or to other businesses.
The Customer Service Regulation requires both large and small organizations to which it applies to take proactive steps to address and improve accessibility to and in the provision of their goods and services to persons with disabilities. For purposes of the AODA, “disability” has the same definition as it does in the Ontario Human Rights Code.
By January 1, 2012, organizations are required to have in place policies and procedures governing the provision of their goods and services to persons with disabilities, and to have training completed. Large organizations (i.e., those with 20 or more employees) must ensure that their policies and procedures are in writing and available to be produced upon request and in a format that takes into account the disability of the person requesting the document.
The following is a summary of the key requirements set out in the Customer Service Regulation:
- Organizations must address the use of assistive devices used by persons with disabilities in their policies and procedures. Organizations are required to communicate with a person with a disability “in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability.”
- Generally, a person with a disability who is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal must be permitted to enter the premises and have the guide dog or other service animal with him or her at all times, unless the animal is otherwise excluded for other lawful purposes.
- A “support person” who accompanies a person with a disability must be permitted to access the premises with the person with a disability and to remain with that person at all times while on the company’s premises. An organization may also require that a person with a disability be accompanied by a support person where there are health and safety issues.
- Organizations must notify the public of any disruption to facilities and services ordinarily used by disabled persons to access goods and services. Larger companies are also required to have written procedures in place to deal with these temporary disruptions.
- Organizations must establish a “feedback” process and must permit feedback to be given in various forms (in person, phone, in writing, e-mail or in other form).
- Where documents are required to be made available, they must be in a format that takes into consideration a person’s disability and their ability to access the information.
Education and training are important components of the AODA and the regulations and are critical to achieving its mandate. The Customer Service Regulation sets out specific training requirements for organizations. Both large and small organizations are required to ensure that the following persons receive training on the provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities: every person who deals with members of the public or other third parties on behalf of the provider, whether the person does so as an employee, agent, volunteer or otherwise; and every person who participates in developing the provider’s policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to members of the public or other third parties. Training should be ongoing and refresher training should be provided at least annually, although the latter is not specifically mandated.
Neither the AODA nor the regulation prescribe the form of “training” that is required but they do spell out the content that is required. Employee training must include the following:
- a review of the purposes of the AODA and the requirements of the regulation;
- training on how to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability;
- 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;
- how to use equipment or devicesavailable 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; and
- what to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services.
Employersmust keep record of the training provided, including the dates on which the training takes place and the number of individuals to whom it is provided. Larger employers are required to prepare a document describing the organization’s training policy, and the document must include a summary of the contents of the training and details of when the training is to be provided.
Large organizations, which by the definition in the regulation account for approximately 60,000 private sector businesses in the province, are required to file “accessibility reports” annually and must make these reports available to the public. Small organizations are exempt from this requirement for now.
It is important to note that currently the AODA does not provide a mechanism whereby individuals can make complaints about violations of the AODA or its regulations. Having said that, inspectors have the power to investigate violations and make orders against offending individuals and corporations. The AODA sets out significant fines and penalties for violations, including $100,000 per day for a corporation and $50,000 per day for an officer, director or individual.
Organizations are not currently required by the AODA or the Customer Service Regulation to make changes to their physical environments or web sites or employment practices. However, the Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation which comes in to effect for large private sector organizations (i.e., 50 or more employees) on January 1, 2014, and for small private sector organizations (i.e., one to 49 employees) on January 1,2015, mandates specific requirements with respect to these areas and transportation. With respect to building requirements, the government issued a draft regulation which purported to deal with improving access to physical environments (indoor and outdoor) but no final regulation has been issued to date. That regulation is expected to apply only to new construction or extensive renovations yet that remains to be seen.
The Customer Service Regulation came into force for designated public sector employers on January 1, 2010.
Please contact us if you require assistance complying with your organization’s obligations pursuant to the AODA and Customer Service Regulation.