The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act should be viewed as a living document. To illustrate this point, so far there have been two independent reviews of the AODA, the first completed by Mr. Charles Beer in 2005[i] and the second, which has yet to be released, authored by Dean Mayo Moran[ii]. Within each of these reviews there is a substantial element that is reflective of public opinion that takes the form of third party submissions that act as critical analysis of the AODA and recommendations within them serve to reassess the act itself. It is from this perspective that we are able to see an important aspect of reform in action. If the majority point of view does not align with an existing legislative framework then, in this case, it befalls people with disabilities and their representative organizations to re-evaluate it and make corrective recommendations.
For example, the concept of harmonization[iii] that came out of the Beer report is a theme that has run throughout the AODA review process. In the 2010 review it was suggested that there be a move towards harmonization of the customer service standard and integrated accessibility standards in order to prevent duplication or inconsistencies that would be bred out of the fact that the standards themselves were developed in isolation from each other[iv].
In a 2014 submission to the Mayo Report[v], the Arch Disability Law Centre made a continued call for effective harmonization noting that the customer service standard and the integrated accessibility standard should create more accessibility, not decrease it[vi] by further loosening of requirements with regards to obligated organizations. There still are distinctive components to the customer service standard and the integrated regulations that bifurcate the act making compliance and requirements two fold. These are things like the different sizes and class of organizations that are required to comply in writing, have accessible documents, and provide these upon request.
In an attempt to remediate this there are proposed revisions to the customer service standard that deserve analysis in so far as they might make for a more harmonized act in some areas but might also allow it more leniencies in others. In brief, according to the ministry[vii] website they are based upon:
- Changing definitions of the customer service standard to match with the integrated accessibility standard.
- Changing the class structure of the customer service standard to match that of the integrated accessibility standard.
- Changing the effective dates to align with the integrated accessibility standard where applicable and to provide for a grace period if required.
- Changing terminology in the section dealing with the establishment of policies, practices and procedures to reflect the integrated accessibility standards.
- Changing the definition of service animal to be more comprehensive.
- Adding language to clarify when an organization might require a support person to accompany a person with disabilities for health and safety reasons.
- Changing the training requirements to reflect those of the integrated accessibility standard.
- Changing feedback processes to include a comprehensive section title and to incorporate the language of the integrated accessibility standard when discussing an organization’s role in ensuring that feedback processes are accessible.
- Changing the notice of availability and format of documents to include that consultation must be held with the person with a disability and that accessible formats will be provided in a timely manner at a cost no higher than the regular cost charged.
The proposed revisions to the customer service standard are primarily based upon matching with the language of the integrated accessibility standard. The Purpose and Application section of the revisions to the customer service standard outlines the proposed removal of the terms “designated public sector organization” and “provider of goods and service” to be replaced by the term “obligated organizations” [viii]. This would serve to reduce inconsistencies and further streamline the act, creating a simpler set of terms to be employed in framing requirements.
Also, there are areas where the revisions become more comprehensive. For example, the Service Animal section of the revisions propose to streamline the terms as stated above, but also to change the definition of service animal to incorporate the provision of third party certification that an animal has been trained to provide assistance, and to use the term “regulated health professional” instead of suggesting that proof confirming the need for a service animal come from a “physician or nurse”.
The examples above illustrate progress towards a more harmonized approach to the AODA and although these are good indications, there are still areas that could use further analysis. The proposed revision of the class structure section is one area where matching the terminology of the integrated accessibility standard might be counter intuitive. It is proposed that a change can be made to the number of employees required for a designation of a small or large organization. Presently it is 1-19 employees that constitutes a small organization, although, it is proposed that that be changed to 1-49 employees.
The effect that this could potentially have could be to decrease the number of organizations required to create tangible accessibility profiles and lessen the enforcement of the AODA. Considering how many small businesses and organizations people with disabilities utilize in Ontario this revision could be viewed as an avenue to decreasing accessibility instead of improving it. Further, the use of the term “grace period” when discussing the proposed revisions to the effective dates section would naturally require very distinct and measurable parameters if it was actually going to be rolled out.
Being the eternal optimist, I like to view these recommendations as a step in the right direction, but one that should be further refined through more in-depth consultations with the public at hand and an educated view of how well informed policy can be impactful for everybody, not just a small percentage of applicable organizations.
[i] Charles Beer. Charting a Path Forward: Report of the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, (2005) Available: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/accessibility/Charles%20Beer/Charles%20Beer.pdf [accessed 22 December 14)
[ii] Dean Moran. Official Website of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) 2013-14 Legislative Review (2014) http://aodareview.utoronto.ca (accessed 22 December 14]
[iii] Beer Note 3
[v] Diane Wintermute. (2014). Proposed Amendments to the Customer Service Standard. Available:http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/sites/all/files/CSS%20submissions%20May%2022%2014%20final.txt. (accessed 21st Dec, 2014.)
[vi] Diane Wintermute. (2014). ARCH Disability Law Centre’s Written Submission to the Independent Review of the AODA 2014. Available: http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/node/962. (accessed 21st Dec, 2014.)
[vii]Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure (2014) The Review of the Accessible Customer Service Standards. Available. http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/customerservice/public_review_comment.aspx (accessed 21st Dec, 2014.)
[viii] Ministry of Economic Development , Employment and Infrastructure (2014) The Review of the Accessible Customer Service Standards. Available.http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/customerservice/public_review_proposed_changes.aspx [accessed 22 December 14]