The Manitoba Customer Service Accessibility Standard (CSAS) under the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) came into effect November 1, 2015. The CSAS requires all of Manitoba’s public, private and non-profit organizations with one or more employees that provide goods or services directly to the public or to another organization in Manitoba, to establish and implement measures, policies and practices to remove barriers for access to the goods or services it provides.
The final version of the Customer Service Regulation can be found here.
There are different timelines for organizations to meet the standard:
- The Manitoba government must comply within one year: by November 1, 2016
- The public sector must comply within two years: by November 1, 2017
- Private and non-profit organizations must comply within three years: by November 1, 2018
According to the Customer Service Standard Regulation:
“accessible customer service standard is provided when all persons who are reasonably expected to seek to obtain, use or benefit from a good or service have the same opportunity to obtain, use or benefit from the good or service.”
An organization’s accessibility measures, policies and practices must also meet the requirements and obligations under the Manitoba Human Rights Code.
This means organizations must:
- First understand that people with disabilities may have different needs requiring small or large changes or accommodations to how the organization serves customers with disabilities.
- Review existing policies, practices and procedures for serving customers and make changes to those that exclude or limit participation and access to their goods and services by persons with disabilities. For the purposes of this standard, customer service refers to practices, processes and interactions that lead to the fulfillment of a transaction, exchange or customer requirement or need.
- Consider how best to communicate with persons with disabilities by making reasonable efforts to ensure that, when communicating with a person who is disabled by a barrier, the communication is done in a manner that takes into account the barrier.
- Recognize that a person who is disabled by a barrier may use assistive devices to remove or reduce the barrier, and put in place measures and practices that must reasonably accommodate the use of those devices.
- Recognize that a person who is disabled by a barrier may, when seeking to obtain, use or benefit from the organization’s goods or services, be accompanied by a support person. Accommodation must be made to allow the support person to accompany and enter the premises at the same time as the person with a disability. A person with a disability must be able to have access to the support person at all times while on the premises. If a fee is required, the customer must be notified of the amount in advance.
- Recognize that a person who is disabled by a barrier may be accompanied by a service animal when he or she seeks to obtain, use or benefit from the organization’s goods or services.
- Ensure that (a) accessibility measures, policies and practices include a requirement that any aspect of the organization’s built environment intended to facilitate barrier-free access to the goods or services it provides are available for use in the intended manner; and (b) if such an aspect is unavailable for use, notice of the following be given: (i) the reasons why the aspect is unavailable and an estimate of when the availability will be restored, (ii) details of alternate means, if any, available to access the organization’s goods or services. The notice must be prominently displayed on the applicable premises and on the organization’s website, if any, or be given by other means that are reasonable in the circumstances.
- Make reasonable efforts to ensure that the organization provides a process for (a) receiving and responding to feedback about the accessibility of its goods or services in a manner that is appropriate in the circumstances and is suitable for persons who are disabled by barriers; and (b) documenting its resulting actions and making that documentation available on request.
- Document the measures, policies and practices it establishes and implements and must provide a copy of the documentation on request, if the organization has 20 or more employees. It must also provide notice that the documentation is available on request. The notice must be prominently displayed on the applicable premises and on the organization’s website, if any, or be given by other means that are reasonable in the circumstances.
- Comply with the measures, policies and practices that it establishes and implements.
- Ensure that training about accessible customer service is or has been provided to employees, agents and volunteers who provide goods or services directly to the public or to another organization in Manitoba on behalf of the organization. Training must also be provided to a person who participates in the development and implementation of the organization’s measures, policies and practices. The training must include a review of the purposes and principles of the Act; how to interact and communicate with persons disabled by barriers; how to interact with persons disabled by barriers who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a support person or service animal; how to use any equipment or assistive devices that may be available to assist persons disabled by barriers; and, what to do if a person disabled by a particular barrier is having difficulty accessing a good or service.
- Ensure that training is provided to a person as soon as reasonably practicable after the person is assigned the applicable duties and ongoing training is provided in connection with changes to the organization’s measures, policies and practices respecting providing barrier-free access to the goods or services it provides. In addition, organizations with 20 employees or more must have the training policy in writing.
Furthermore, an organization that holds a public event must take reasonable measures to ensure that:
- Notice of the event is given in a manner that is accessible to persons disabled by barriers
- The event is held in a meeting space that is accessible
- The physical and communication needs of persons disabled by barriers are met on request and
- Notice is given that persons disabled by barriers may request that relevant supports be provided
A “public event” includes a public meeting, a public hearing and a consultation process required under an enactment.
On December 5, 2013, the Manitoba government passed The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (Bill 26). The law enables the establishment of accessibility standards to achieve accessibility for Manitobans disabled by barriers in various areas of daily life.
The standards will require persons and organizations to implement measures, policies or practices or do such things as are specified in the standard in order to identify and remove, and prevent the erection of, barriers for persons with disabilities with respect to the following key areas:
- The Customer Service Standard addresses business practices and training requirements to provide better customer service to people with disabilities
- The Employment Accessibility Standard will address practices related to employee recruitment, hiring and retention
- The Information and Communications Standard will address barriers to accessing information-information provided in print, in person, on websites or in other formats
- The Built Environment Standard will deal with access to those areas outside the jurisdiction of The Manitoba Building Code, such as sidewalks, pathways, parks and other aspects of the environment that that are designed and constructed
- The Transportation Standard will address barriers Manitobans might encounter while getting to work or school, shopping, socializing and other aspects of daily life
The AMA standards are similar to what is already established in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its associated regulations. However, Manitoba has already planned for accessibility standards for education and the health sector.
Each standard will outline specific requirements and timelines for organizations that have a responsibility to eliminate barriers. Non-compliance may result in administrative fines and penalties.
The Manitoba government is working with representatives from the disability community, as well as public and private sector organizations to develop accessibility standards. The first standard that was developed and is now in force is the Customer Service Standard.
What comes next?
Nova Scotia and British Columbia are proactively working to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities and thinking of implementing accessibility legislation in the process. New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador are holding dialogues on various issues designed to increase the participation, inclusion and employment of persons with disabilities.
Several interested stakeholders are calling for a national Canadians with Disabilities Act to cover the key areas stated above, but also to standardize the requirements across the federal government instead of the patchwork of multiple tools employed in multiple policy areas. For example, Canada is in the process of establishing new web accessibility standards, which will come into force on April 1, 2016. Not all Canadian government bodies need to follow the new standard; they only apply to the government agencies identified in Schedules I–III of the Financial Administration Act. Second, not all web pages have to be made accessible and not all at the same time. In addition, Transportation Canada already has responsibilities for removing undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities from federal transportation services and facilities.
The new Liberal government has confirmed that it intends to enact a Canadians with Disabilities Act and has appointed Carla Qualtrough, a person with low vision, the Minister of Sport and the Minister for People with Disabilities.
It will be very interesting to follow the progress of this issue at the federal level as this will likely involve a broad-ranging nationwide discussion of disability and accessibility. Moreover, a national Canadians with Disabilities Act could provide a blueprint for similar legislation across the country. I find it very reassuring that our governments are acting or starting to act on this issue that will affect more and more Canadians over the coming years. It seems like a sign that we are capable of taking proactive steps to address important societal matters and issues before they become too big to manage.