Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), effective January 1, 2012, organizations in Ontario must provide and make available in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports, information about emergency response plans or public safety to customers and employees with disabilities.
Moreover, every obligated employer must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability. If an employee who receives individualized workplace emergency response information requires assistance and with the employee’s consent, the employer must provide the workplace emergency response information to the person designated by the employer to provide assistance to the employee.
The individualized workplace emergency response information must be reviewed:
- When the employee moves to a different location in the organization
- When the employee’s overall accommodations needs or plans are reviewed
- When the employer reviews its general emergency response policies
This obligation to provide information in an accessible format will apply to your violence and harassment policies, pandemic plan, hazardous material incident response plan, fire emergency procedures and first aid plan, among other emergency response procedures.
Organizations and employers should already be in compliance with similar stipulations under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act or the general duty under section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. However, the accessibility standard under the AODA will add the requirement that any emergency response plan and safety information be made available to the public/employees “in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports.”
As defined in the Regulation, accessible formats may include, but are not limited to, large print, recorded audio and electronic formats, Braille, and other formats usable by persons with disabilities. Communication supports may include, but are not limited to, captioning, alternative and augmentative communication supports, plain language, sign language and other supports that facilitate effective communications.
An emergency response plan or public safety information is an established process of preparing and planning for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from an emergency. Providing proper training, conducting drills, testing equipment and coordinating activities with the federal and provincial governments, municipalities, community and health organizations are other important functions and areas of your organization. Remember that the definition of an “emergency” may include “disease or health risk”.
The plan should identify potential hazards, provide guidelines and cover prevention activities, preparedness activities and response activities. These guidelines should be periodically reviewed.
Effective January 1, 2012, employers need to ensure that these plans and information meet the special needs of persons with disabilities.
To achieve such a goal, include people with disabilities in your emergency planning. You can consult with disability assistance organization (e.g., the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) or persons with disabilities to know how you can assist them in emergency situations and how they need to receive and be made aware of such safety information. You need to find out how different disabilities can affect a person’s ability to respond in emergencies and how you can address this in your plan.
Organizations also need to do a hazards assessment of their worksites and plan emergency drills with staff. The aim is to plan how your staff can help each other and your clients with disabilities in an emergency.
The ability to communicate quickly with all employees and customers is critical during an emergency. To make your written emergency plan accessible to all persons with disabilities, the plan must cover emergency notification options, communication devices used by people with disabilities, and how to communicate with employees and customers with a variety of disabilities.
There are several resources available online to help you ensure that your emergency plans and public safety information meet the needs of persons with disabilities and are accessbile to them.
WorkSafeBC has a great guide on how to prepare an emergency response plan for small business.
The Red Cross has a useful Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities/Special Needs Guide.
Another great guide from BC is Workplace Emergency Planning for Workers with Disabilities; A Handbook for Employers and Workers.
First Reference Inc. Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor