Welcome back from your early summer vacation – Changes to the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”) came into effect on July 1. Employers must revisit their Customer Service Standard policies and procedures to ensure they are compliant with these changes.
The Customer Service Standard was the first standard to be enacted under the AODA. It is currently found in a standalone regulation. With the changes, it is now incorporated into the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation which contains the four other accessibility standards, i.e. the Information and Communication Standard, Employment Standard, Transportation Standard and Public Spaces Standard.
We have highlighted the key points from the amendments below:
1. Service Animals
Under the AODA Customer Service Standard, organizations must allow a person with a disability to access parts of their premises that are open to the public with a service animal. There has been some recent litigation at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on the issue of service animals, where a person has been denied services or entry to facilities with their service animal.
The amendments to the AODA Customer Service Standard seek to make it clearer when an animal is considered a service animal. Currently, an animal is considered a service animal where it is readily apparent that the animal is used for reasons related to disability. Where it is not “readily apparent” the person with a disability can provide a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the animal is indeed a service animal.
The new language provides that an animal is a service animal where the animal can be readily identified as being used for reasons related to disability, as a result of visual indicators like a vest or harness. It also allows a person with a disability to provide documentation from a wide variety of regulate health professionals, not just doctors and nurses, to confirm that the animal is a service animal where it is not readily identifiable.
2. Support Persons
Organizations must allow persons with disabilities to be accompanied by a support person when on an organization’s premises. An organization may require a person to be accompanied by a support person where the support person is necessary to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability and other persons on the premises.
The support person requirements have been changed to ensure that organizations do not impose a requirement to have a support person where it is not necessary. The new language provides that the organization must consult with the person with a disability and only require a support person where there is no other reasonable way to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability or other persons on the premises. In addition, where a support person is required, the organization must waive any entry or user fee for the support person. Note that this fee waiver only applies where an organization requires the person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person for health and safety reasons.
3. Changes for small organizations
The AODA Customer Service Standard has a different threshold for when an organization is considered small or large than that found in the Integrated Accessibility Standard. This has been a point of confusion for many employers. The AODA Customer Service Standard will now be aligned with the Integrated Accessibility Standard. This means a small organization for the purpose of the AODA Customer Service Standard will now be one with under 50 employees in Ontario. Previously, a small organization under the Customer Service Standard was one with less than 20 employees in Ontario.
This will relieve private sector employers with between 20 to 49 employees of the obligation to have their AODA Customer Service Standard policies in writing and available to members of the public. However, employers with 20 employees or more in Ontario will continue to be required to file an Accessibility Report in relation to the AODA Customer Service Standard Requirements.
What Employers Need to Know
Employers will need to review their current policies and procedures related to the AODA Customer Service Standard and make revisions where necessary to ensure compliance with the amendments. As mentioned above, the changes to the training requirement are the most significant. Depending on the nature of the workplace, this may require employers to train large parts of their workforce who had not previously been trained on account of the lack of interaction with customers or other third parties. Further, organizations that require a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person for health and safety reasons where there is no other reasonable alternative will need to bear any entry fee associated with the support person.