Have you kept up to date with the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)? Statistics show that one in seven citizens of Ontario has some sort of disability. Not only is it essential for businesses to become accessible in order to take advantage of these potential customers, it’s now law! The AODA Customer Service Standard came into effect in 2005; public sector organizations had to comply as of January 1, 2010, and private sector organizations by January 1, 2012. You may ask: does this standard apply to me? The answer is YES! All organizations in Ontario that employ at least one employee and provide goods or services to customers or third parties are required to be compliant with the customer service standard (including consultants, manufacturers and wholesalers). Not complying with this standard can trigger government inspections and financial penalties.
The Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services is encouraging a more collaborative approach to get this standard implemented as compared to the more forceful penalty-driven workplace violence and harassment provisions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (formerly Bill 168).
On or before December 31, 2012, all organizations that have 20 or more employees have to comply with the AODA customer service standard reporting requirement. The ministry requires these organizations to submit a report regarding their progress on the implementation of the AODA customer service standard in their organization.
All qualified organizations should have followed these steps to ensure they are in compliance with the customer service standard:
- Create and introduce a plan, policies, practices and procedures to implement accessibility features which include: considering the needs of persons with disabilities when communicating with them; allowing assistive devices, service animals and support persons in your premises; having a feedback process in place; having a process in place to let customers know when there is a disruption in service
- Train employees on your plan, policies, practices and procedures; let them know what is going on and what they can do to help
- If your organization has 20 or more employees, put your plan on paper; record the efforts (plan details and timeline, training logs) you put toward your projects, and make the plan available for your employees to read
- If you are an organization with 20 or more employees, let the Ministry of Community and Social Services know how you are doing! You are required to fill out a report on or before December 31, to show your progress in achieving accessibility under the customer service standard
- If you are an organization with 20 or more employees, let your customers know what your plan is and that you can provide them with a copy in an accessible format
Filling out this report isn’t difficult! Click here to find the type of questions you will be asked and walk through the reporting process before you actually do it. It is recommended you schedule one to two hours to complete this report.
Visit ServiceOntario’s ONe-Source for Business to sign up to officially complete the report. Once signed up, you will be asked to create your own account and your business profile before clicking on the AODA reporting tab to answer those questions.
We also suggest that you stay on top of your customer service plan, policies, practices and procedures. Keep updating them on a regular basis to accommodate for new trends, changes in the law or any incidents that may have occurred requiring adjustments to your existing practices.
Remember to keep your employees informed of, and trained on, any changes, and ask for their feedback on complying with accessibility. Keep the Ministry of Community and Social Services updated with your results and ask questions if you are unclear. One study suggests that improved accessibility can help Ontario generate up to $9.6 billion in new retail spending and $1.6 billion in new tourism spending!
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