January 1, 2012 is the deadline for all private sector employers to comply with the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”). The purpose of the AODA is to make Ontario more accessible by removing barriers commonly faced by people with disabilities.
The Customer Service Standard is one of five accessibility standards being developed under the AODA. Three of the remaining standards, the transportation, information and communication, and employment standards are contained in an Integrated Regulation. The final standard, the built environment standard, has yet to be finalized.
The requirements under the Customer Service Standard are as follows:
- Establish policies, practices and procedures with respect to providing goods and services to people with disabilities. Policies must address integration of services, the use of assistive devices and how to communicate with a person with a disability. Organizations with 20 or more employees must have a written policy and must make the policy available upon request.
- Allow for the use of service animals in areas of the premises that are open to the public and third parties unless prohibited by law;
- Allow support persons to accompany people with disabilities and give notice in advance of any admission fees that will be charged to the support person;
- Post notice of temporary disruption in facilities or services used by people with disabilities;
- Ensure that members of management involved in creating the policies, employees and any persons that provide goods or services on behalf of the organization (for example: contractors, volunteers, agents) are trained on how to provide goods or services to people with disabilities;
- Provide a feedback process including what actions will be taken when a complaint is received;
- Prepare an annual accessibility report, which is an online report with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Private sector service providers with less than 20 employees are exempt from this requirement.
The training requirement is one of the more time consuming requirements under the Customer Service Standard. Employers need to be aware that all persons who provide goods or services on their behalf must be trained. If the business contracts out any work to third parties, the business has an obligation to ensure that these people are trained. With respect to existing contractors, businesses may want to hold a training session for these individuals or provide them with the businesses training materials for its employees. Businesses may also want to include a clause in new contracts requiring the contractors to undergo training before the contract commences.
In addition, there are two requirements under the Integrated Regulation that employers need to be compliant with by January 1, 2012.
- Under the Information and Communication Standard, if an organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information, this information must be made available to the public.
- Under the Employment Standard, if the employer is aware of an employee’s disability, individualized workplace emergency response information must be developed.
It is important for employers to realize that these two requirements also come into effect on January 1, 2012. Since most of the attention is placed on the requirements under the Customer Service Standard, these requirements may be easy to miss.