The Customer Service Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) comes into effect for private sector employers on Jan. 1, 2012. This standard applies to every organization that has one or more employees and provides goods or services either directly or indirectly to the public or other organizations, said Leah Simon, a lawyer at SherrardKuzz in Toronto.
The goal is to make Ontario fully accessible to all people with disabilities by 2025.
To accomplish this, AODA outlines accessibility standards targeted to specific areas such as customer service, transportation, employment, information, communication and the built environment.
“(AODA applies to) all public and private sector organizations that operate in and have at least one employee in Ontario,” said Jennifer Miller, principal of Accessibility Consultants and Trainers in Burlington, Ont. “There aren’t many (organizations) that slip through the cracks.”
To date, the Customer Service Standard is the only standard in force, with the public sector required to be in compliance as of Jan. 1, 2010, and the private sector by Jan. 1, 2012.
“I think one of the common misconceptions out there is industries that aren’t traditionally customer service-based — so retail, hospitality, that kind of thing — don’t have to comply but, in fact, that’s not the case,” said Simon.
Even manufacturing operations that don’t deal with the public very often have to comply so the other businesses they work with can access their services in an accessible manner, she said.
As part of the Customer Service Standard, organizations must establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of an employer’s goods and services to people with disabilities.
“It needs to be aligned with the four core principles of the legislation — integration, independence, equal opportunity and dignity — and you have to use reasonable efforts to develop the policies, practices and procedures… and to ensure your existing policies, practices and procedures comply with those principles,” said Simon.
Organizations must also ensure employees who interact with the public or third parties communicate with people with disabilities in a manner that takes into account the disability.
They also need to establish a policy that takes into account the use of assistive devices by people with disabilities to access goods and services.
“(The policy should) address how they interact with customers in wheelchairs or scooters and the policy and procedures should also deal with assistive devices the business may provide to a customer,” said Miller. “Quite often, it’s something as simple as a magnifying glass to help a person read a price tag or small print.”
The City of Burlington in Ontario was required to be in compliance with the Customer Service Standard on Jan. 1, 2010, and the assistive devices component has helped employees become more comfortable dealing with a variety of devices — such as oxygen tanks and communication devices — seen throughout the municipality, said Judi Lytle, accessibility co-ordinator at the City.
“We ensured staff who are responsible for our existing assistive devices — like pool lifts — knew how to use them and made sure staff were comfortable knowing someone might bring their own assistive devices and they are welcome to use them,” she said.
The standard also requires organizations to permit people with disabilities to bring service animals with them onto an organization’s premises, unless otherwise excluded by law. In places where food is being served, only service dogs are permitted, said Simon.
“There are varying types of service animals out there, they’re not all dogs — people use rodents for certain anxiety-related disabilities… and miniature ponies as stability animals,” she said. “There is certainly an obligation on organizations if the service animal can’t come in… to provide the service in another way.”
Organizations must also permit people with disabilities to be accompanied by a support person. If a business charges an admission fee, it needs to post whatever fee the support person will be charged, said Miller. But most organizations do not charge a fee to a support person who is attending an event for the purpose of assisting a person with a disability, she said.
Organizations must also establish a method of notifying the public when facilities or services are unavailable for people with disabilities.
“If the automatic door to that business has broken down or the elevator or escalator has broken down, they need to provide notice,” said Miller. “And that notice must include the reason for the disruption, the expected length… and other means of accessing goods and services if they exist.”
Businesses also need to train all staff, volunteers, contractors and anyone who interacts with the public or a third party on all topics identified in the Customer Service Standard. They need to provide ongoing training for new hires, for existing staff that did not fulfill applicable duties but have moved into a position where they now do, and ongoing training if there is a change to policies, procedures or practices, said Miller.
The format and length of the training is not specified in the standard but employers should use common sense when determining who gets what training and in what format, she said.
“If they have someone who interacts with the public very infrequently — it could be someone in IT who addresses a customer inquiry once per year — that person might receive 30 minutes of training whereas the front-line staff who interact with the public on a regular, ongoing basis would possibly receive 90 minutes of training,” said Miller.
The City of Burlington took a “multi-training approach” to best meet the needs of its 870 full-time staff, 670 part-time staff and more than 1,000 volunteers, said Lytle.
While those on the front line, senior management and executives received three hours of training, volunteers received a short PowerPoint presentation and a training book, and new hires receive accessibility training as part of their orientation.
The final requirement of the Customer Service Standard is organizations must establish a feedback and complaints process for customers to address the manner in which a business provides goods and services to people with disabilities.
Penalties are not yet finalized but failure to comply by Jan. 1, 2012, could result in fines ranging from $200 to $50,000 for every day an offence continues for an individual and $500 to $100,000 for every day an offence continues for an organization, said Simon.
Webinar on AODA
Earlier this year, Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) held a joint webinar on complying with AODA. Click here to view the webinar. Cost: $69 plus tax.
Complying with AODA
Integrated Accessibility Standard
Public and private sector organizations are also required to comply with two components of the
Integrated Accessibility Standard by Jan. 1, 2012.
Emergency procedure, plans or public safety information
If an obligated organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information and makes the information available to the public, it shall provide the information in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports, as soon as practicable, upon request.
Workplace emergency response
Every employer shall provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability. If an employee who receives individualized workplace emergency response information requires assistance, and with the employee’s consent, the employer shall provide the workplace emergency response information to the person designated by the employer to provide assistance to the employee. Employers shall provide the information as soon as practicable after they become aware of the need for accommodation.
Source: Government of Ontario
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