On January 1st, 2012, compliance with the Customer Service Standard component of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became mandatory.
People Access, an EnAbling Change Partner of the Ontario Government, is dedicated to helping you meet the AODA compliance objectives. Feel free to download some of our resources to learn who must comply and what you must do to achieve compliance. If you need help, our team’s experienced members can help you achieve compliance quickly and efficiently.
For those who want a quick overview, this post will help set the stage for your journey to compliance, not only for the Customer Service Standard, but for the other standards to come.
What Is AODA?
The purpose of the AODA is to enable people with disabilities to fully participate in all activities in the province. To achieve the AODA objective of an accessible Ontario by 2025, five standards were created requiring organizations, including health care practices, clinics, associations, and colleges, to provide:
- Accessible Customer Service
- Accessible Employment
- Accessible Information and Communication
- Accessible Transportation
- Accessible Built Environment
Who has to comply?
Only sole proprietors with no employees and organizations run entirely by volunteers are excluded.
Any organization with at least one employee who works full time, part time or part-year must comply.
If you run your own business and it is incorporated, you may be an employee of the corporation and therefore would need to comply. Essentially, if your organization issues T4s, it needs to comply.
Organizations with twenty or more employees have a few more requirements around documenting their accessibility and reporting on their compliance. Be sure to take this into account when you look at the requirements.
I don’t have customers… Are you sure this applies to me?
The word “customer” refers to anyone that an organization, professional or practitioner provides goods or services to. This could include patients, clients, members, parishioners, students, the general public, citizens or anyone outside your organization that you serve.
How do I count my employees? Does the number include volunteers and casual help?
In most situations it is clear whether someone is an employee or not. Usually this will depend on whether you pay the employee wages or a salary, have control over the work assigned to the employee and have a right to control the details of the work. In general, if you have to prepare an annual T-4 “Statement of Remuneration Paid” for a staff member, that person is considered an employee. This includes all full-time, part-time, and part-year employees.
Volunteers and independent contracted workers are not considered employees.
What is considered a disability under this legislation
Visible and invisible disabilities that may be temporary, short-term, long-term or permanent are all included in the definition of disability for the AODA and its regulations. The emphasis is on the accommodation needs of the person, rather than the identification of the person’s disability or disabilities.
Types of disabilities include:
- speech or communication
- mental health
- intellectual or developmental
- sensory perception
Also included are people with seizure disorders, severe allergies, heart conditions, cancer, or any other disease or condition that affects people in such a way that they require an accommodation to access services or employment.
Are all these Standards currently law?
Ontario Regulation 429/07, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulation, has been law since January 2008 and if you are an employer in the private or non-profit sector, you must comply with this standard by January 1, 2012. The public sector had to comply two years earlier.
Ontario Regulation 191/11, the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), has been law since July 2011 and includes three standards: Employment, Transportation, and Information & Communication. Compliance dates are spread out over the next 9 years.
This IASR has only one requirement that you must meet by January 1, 2012. You must ensure that if you have an emergency measures plan for your organization. it is an accessible plan that takes into account the needs of people with disabilities.
The last regulation will deal with the Accessibility Standard for the Built Environment and it has been released as a draft only, so it is not yet law. In July 2009, the government made a public announcement that this standard will not require buildings to be renovated or retrofitted to meet accessibility requirements. This means that if passed into law, this standard will make improvements on a go-forward basis. However, buildings that undergo extensive renovations will be required to conform to accessibility requirements as is currently the case under the Ontario Building Code.
When do I have to be in compliance?
Private sector businesses and non-profit organizations must comply with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service by January 1, 2012.
The broader public sector, including hospitals, academic colleges and universities schools, municipalities and the provincial government, were required to comply with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service by January 1, 2010.
What happens if I don’t comply?
You may be audited, inspected and/or fined if you do not comply. The government hopes that all organizations will see the benefits of accessibility to build your client, patient or member base and to provide better service for everyone. Therefore, if you are found to be non-compliant, the government may first offer you support in terms of information or training.
However, if you still don’t comply, you may be issued a Director’s order or an administrative monetary penalty.
Note: If you submit a false accessibility compliance report, fail to comply with a Director’s order, or prevent an enforcement officer sent out to inspect your premises from doing his or her job, you will have committed an offence. The AODA provides for fines for such an offence that can be as high as $100,000 a day for an organization, and up to $50,000 a day for an individual.
I rent my business space. Can I be held responsible for making it accessible?
The accessible customer service standard is not about bricks and mortar or ramps and elevators. These structural accessibility features will be covered under the Accessible Built Environment Standard that is not yet law.
However, whether you rent or own, if your premises aren’t physically accessible you still have a responsibility to provide accessible customer service. If your premises are not accessible for someone who has a mobility disability or another disability that makes it difficult for him or her to access your goods or services, you need to decide how you could provide accessible service to the person. Contact People Access for some ideas on how to do this by making use of our Free Consultation.
If you rent your premises, you may want to talk to your landlord to see if there are some changes that could reasonably be made to make them more accessible. Sometimes just moving some hall-furniture, like bookcases or filing cabinets, can provide enough room for someone in a scooter or wheelchair to use the hallway. You should also ensure that your landlord knows that under the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, service animals and support people, as well as assistive devices like oxygen tanks, scooters and walkers, must be permitted if a person needs them to access your services.
Note: Your landlord must also be compliant with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service by January 1, 2012, so he or she must provide accessible service to you. You are the client or customer of your landlord.
We hope this post answered your questions about if and how the legislation and regulations apply to you. Our resource section provides a great deal of useful information to get you started towards attaining compliance.
Please take us up on our offer a free consultation by clicking here, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-800-263-9648 ext. 224.
You can also access a number of free resources by going to the government accessibility site.