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Accessibility standards: Are you ready for the customer service standard?

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Are you ready for the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act? I recently attended an informative labour and employment law conference by Davis LLP, and learned that many businesses appear to be unaware of the extent of their obligations under this first standard—and private sector organizations that provide goods or services with at least one employee in Ontario must implement the changes by January 1, 2012.

The point of the Act is generally to change attitudes and environments in Ontario’s workplaces, specifically by removing barriers for disabled persons at organizations that provide goods and services and employ Ontarians. A “barrier” means anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability, including:

  • A physical barrier
  • An architectural barrier
  • An information or communications barrier
  • An attitudinal barrier
  • A technological barrier
  • A policy or practice

The definition of “disability” under the legislation is quite broad, and includes:

  • Any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness
  • A condition of mental impairment or developmental disability
  • A learning disability
  • A mental disorder

According to the Ontario government, about 15.5 percent of Ontarians have disabilities; this is a significant amount of the population. Persons with disabilities must be able to participate in your organization without barriers.

But what can you do?

The requirements are quite complex, but there are numerous things that can be done in order to make an organization more accessible, including:

  • Creating policies and procedures governing the organization’s provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities, and ensuring that the policies and procedures are consistent with equality, the dignity of persons with disabilities, and integrating service provision with persons with disabilities
  • Ensuring that the created policies exist in accessible formats
  • Enhancing communication methods of the organization taking into account persons with disabilities
  • Having a feedback process for customers of the organization and making the process accessible to customers
  • Addressing the use of assistive devices, service animals and support persons in the organization’s policies and procedures
  • Addressing how the organization will prepare and provide notices of temporary disruptions of services (for example, when an elevator breaks down)
  • Fulfilling reporting requirements established under the Act
  • Providing training to members of the organization in order to develop the above-mentioned policies, and in order to interact with members of the public on behalf of the organization

Before commencing, it may be wise to conduct an audit of the premises and determine what is required to comply with the accessibility standard. Some goals may be accomplished with some renovations, while others may be done with some minor changes in procedure.

There are some hefty penalties for those who do not comply with the standard. Individuals could face fines up to $50,000, and corporations up to $100,000, for each day or part of a day an offence under the Act occurs or continues to occur.

Because of the complexities of the Act, it is time to start thinking about this now: 2012 is not that far away, and there are a lot of steps to implement to comply with these upcoming obligations. Has your company done a complete review of what is required in order to meet the accessibility standard under the Act?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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