By: Jessica Young
The next phase of compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”) is fast approaching. For many employers, January 1, 2014 is the compliance deadline for a variety of obligations under the Integrated Accessibility Standards (the “Integrated Standard”).
To date, employers have had the following obligations under the AODA:
- Customer Service Standard requirements
- Integrated Standard
- Accessible public emergency response information
- Individualized emergency response information for employees with disabilities
Upcoming requirements under the Integrated Standard
Large private sector organizations (those with 50 or more employees in Ontario) and small public sector organizations (those with at least one but fewer than 50 employees in Ontario) will need to establish accessibility policies by January 1, 2014. The compliance deadline for large public sector organizations was January 1, 2013.
The accessibility policy must outline how the organization achieves or will achieve accessibility through meeting the requirements under the Integrated Standard. It must also include a statement of organizational commitment to meeting the accessibility needs of people with disabilities in a timely manner. The policy must be in writing and available to members of the public in an accessible format upon request.
Small private sector organizations (those with at least one but fewer than 50 employees in Ontario) do not need to include a statement of organizational commitment in their accessibility policy (of course, it is still a best practice). In addition, they are not required to have their accessibility policy in writing. However, we recommend that all organizations maintain written policies. The compliance deadline for these organizations is January 1, 2015.
Large private sector organizations and small public sector organizations will also need to put in place accessibility plans. An accessibility plan is like a roadmap for compliance with the Integrated Standard obligations. It is a multi-year plan that outlines the organization’s strategies to prevent and remove barriers and to meet its requirements under the Integrated Standard.
The accessibility plan must be posted on the organization’s website (if it has one) and must be made available in an accessible format upon request.
The plan must be reviewed at least once every five years. Considering that the Integrated Standard obligations are being phased in over the next several years, we recommend that organizations review their accessibility plan every year to ensure that a deadline is not missed.
Public sector organizations must prepare and review their accessibility plans in consultation with people with disabilities, as well as their accessibility advisory committee (if applicable). They must also prepare an annual status report on the progress of measure taken to implement their accessibility strategies. This report must be made available on the organization’s website and provided in an accessible format if requested.
Procuring or Acquiring Goods, Services or Facilities:
This requirement does not apply to private sector employers. It requires public sector organizations to incorporate accessibility criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities. The compliance deadline for large public sector organizations was January 1, 2013. The compliance deadline for small public sector organizations is January 1, 2014.
Although this requirement does not apply to the private sector, it is of course a best practice to consider accessibility features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities. It demonstrates good corporate citizenship and helps prospective customers access your offerings.
Public sector organizations must ensure that they incorporate accessibility features when designing, procuring or acquiring self-serve kiosks. The compliance deadline for large public sector organizations was January 1, 2013. The compliance deadline for small public sector organizations is January 1, 2014.
When designing, procuring or acquiring self-serve kiosks private sector organizations must “have regard” for accessibility for people with disabilities. This suggests that the obligation on the private sector is not as stringent. The compliance deadline for large private sector organizations is January 1, 2014, for small private sector organizations the deadline is one year later, January 1, 2015.
You are not required to alter pre-existing self-serve kiosks. It applies to new kiosks as of the compliance deadlines.
Organizations looking to revamp their websites need to pay close attention to their AODA obligations under the Integrated Standard. Commencing January 1, 2014, all public sector organizations and large private sector organizations must ensure that all new and significantly revamped internet websites and web content on those sites complies with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A.
What is the WCAG? The WCAG is a set of international standards created to make websites and the content on websites more accessible to people with disabilities.
The legislation defines “new internet website” as either a website with a new domain name or a website with an existing domain name undergoing a significant refresh. The meaning of “significant refresh” is not defined. The Ontario Government’s publication Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation Guidelines suggests that a “significant refresh” includes, but is not limited to:
- a new look and feel to the website
- a change in how users navigate around it
- a major update and change to the content of the website.
It is important to keep a close eye on any developments in the website department, as changes could trigger the application of this requirement.
By January 1, 2021, public sector organizations and large private sector organizations will need to ensure that all internet websites and web content complies with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, except for (i) success criteria 1.2.4 Captions (Live), and (ii) success criteria 1.2.5 Audio Descriptions (Pre-recorded). This applies to all web content posted after January 1, 2012. Of course, this means that all content being produced now must either be WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant or in 2021 affected organizations will have to re-code or remove that content.
These web accessibility requirements apply except where it is not “practicable”. Factors that may be considered when determining what is “practicable” include the availability of commercial software or tools as well as the impact on an implementation timeline that has been planned or initiated before January 1, 2012.
Take our Advice, Start Planning Now!
We encourage our clients to start planning for these changes now as the January 1, 2014 deadline is coming up quickly. By setting a goal to complete these tasks in the fall you can avoid the last minute rush in December.
The requirements described above are only some of the obligations under the Integrated Standard. Many of the substantive obligations are being phased in over the next several years. It is important to pay attention to these rolling deadlines so that you do not find yourself non-compliant and playing catch-up.
For more information, please contact:
Jeremy Schwartz at [email protected] or 416-862-7011 or
Jessica Young at [email protected] or 416-862-1687