Public sector organizations in the province of Ontario are working toward the January 1, 2010 deadline for implementing the first stage of compliance to ensure accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in all areas of daily life. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) outlines the new customer service standards businesses and other organizations in Ontario must attain to make the provision of their goods and services more accessible to people with disabilities. Private sector and non-profit organizations need to comply by January 1, 2012.
The AODA includes other standards for transportation, built environment, information and communications, and employment. These are in development but not yet in force. The province would like all facets of the Act to be in force by 2025. The chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall, says that while the AODA gives business owners and others until 2025 to comply, many have already made their facilities accessible.
According to Paul Broad and Leola Pon, lawyers at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, these standards are being given the force of law by being adopted as binding regulations. While voluntary compliance is a goal of the legislation, in time the AODA envisions an enforcement process involving compliance reporting, inspectors, director’s orders, and the oversight of a tribunal.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission wants to make sure that requirements under Human Rights Code not be confused with the AODA. The Code deals with individual discrimination while the AODA is about transforming accessibility for the disable in the whole province.
The customer service standard applies to designated public sector organizations and every other person or organization that provides goods or services to the public or to other organizations (third parties) and that has one or more employees in Ontario, such as stores, restaurants, bars, garages, manufacturers, wholesalers, travel agencies, provincial government ministries and places of worship.
Ontario Regulation 429/07 states the requirements of the customer service standard, and Ontario Regulation 430/07 exempts organizations that have fewer than 20 employees (unless the organization is a designated public sector organization) from certain documentation requirements of the standard; but not from the application of the standard.
To meet the customer service standard, organizations will have to establish policies, practices and procedures; allow the use of service animals and support persons; provide notice of temporary disruptions; offer training for staff who interact with the public; provide notice of availability of documents; and ensure the format of documents takes into account a disability.
The deadline is looming, but we are not hearing much about the need for compliance guidelines or sample policies. Nonetheless, all organizations should be reviewing the proposed standard to determine what impact it might have on their operations, training and reporting requirements.
You can obtain more information on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities, as well as a sample customer service policy on HRinfodesk, or from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, which governs the Act, at www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/english
So what do you think of this new requirement and how does it impact your business? In addition, what are you doing to ensure that you are ready to comply with the customer service standard under AODA by 2010 (public sector) or 2012 (private and non-profit sectors)?
Also, what tools and resources can First Reference provide to help you comply?
Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor