November 24, 2014
Yosie Saint-Cyr and Christina Catenacci
As you may be aware, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act contains several obligations that apply at different points in time, depending on whether the organization is a small organization (under 50 employees) or a large organization (50 employees or more), in order to achieve the goal of creating an accessible Ontario.
For those who don’t know what the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is, let me explain. The Act sets out a series of standards with the aim of achieving accessibility for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, information, accommodation, facilities, employment, buildings, structures and premises throughout Ontario by 2025.
The Accessible Customer Service Standards took effect on January 1, 2012 for all organizations in the private and non-profit sector that provide goods and services in Ontario, with at least one employee. As of that date, obligated organizations were supposed to have implemented a number of requirements, including, establishing policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to persons with disabilities, among other things.
Additional requirements for organizations with 20 or more employees included documenting in writing all your policies, practices and procedures for providing accessible customer service, and meeting other document requirements set out in the standard. Notifying customers that documents required under the Customer Service Standard are available upon request. Providing required information in a format that takes into account a person’s disability.
Once all of the above was complete, organizations with 20 or more employees were required to file compliance reports in relation to the Customer Service Standards by December 31, 2012.
What was to be done for 2014
A set of requirements were due by January 1, 2014 this time under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (Ontario Regulation 191/11), which includes standards relating to employment, information and communications, transportation and the design of public spaces (the first Accessibility Standard for the Built Environment). The Integrated Standards also contain certain general obligations regarding accessibility policies and plans and further employee training.
By January 1, 2014, large organizations were required to:
- Develop and implement accessibility policies and a multi-year accessibility plan describing how the organization will achieve accessibility and compliance with the Integrated Standards. The document must include a statement of commitment, and be posted on the organization’s website
- Incorporate accessibility issues into designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks
- Develop websites that generally meet the specifications of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A, but only if the website was created or underwent a significant refresh after January 1, 2012
On or before December 31, 2014, obligated organizations with 20 or more employees must file a second report informing the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario that they are still complying and achieving accessibility under the Customer Service Standard.
By December 31, 2014, organizations with fifty or more employees must in addition report that they have the Accessibility Policies in place and that a Multi-Year Accessibility Plan has been developed to help meet the requirements under the Integrated Standards.
Subsequently, large organizations will be required to file an accessibility report under the Integrated Regulation for all three standards, information and communication, employment and transportation, every three years.
Small private-sector organizations’ compliance obligations under the Integrated Standards begin in 2015. When complying with these deadlines at the various stages over the years, it is always important to keep the main goal of 2025 in mind. However, let the count down continue.
January 1, 2015, requirements
A number of additional requirements take effect January 1, 2015, they include,
- All employees and others providing services on behalf of a large organization must receive training on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities and the Integrated Standards.
- Large organizations must ensure that their feedback processes can be administered in accessible formats and with communication supports upon request.
- Small organizations must have developed and implemented accessibility policies describing how the organization will achieve accessibility and compliance with the Integrated Standards. These policies do not have to be in writing, but how are you going to communicate these policies to the public or employees if they are not in writing? Something to think about!
- Small organizations must consider accessibility issues when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks.
- Large and small producers (publishers) and educational libraries must make conversion-ready educational textbooks (with some exceptions).
The government has divided the Accessible Built Environment Standards into two parts, public spaces and buildings. The public spaces standards were added to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation in 2012. The buildings standards are part of Ontario’s Building Code and will come into force in January 2015. The amended requirements will substantially enhance accessibility in newly constructed buildings and existing buildings that are to be extensively renovated. Changes to the Building Code are being phased in to allow building owners, the building design industry and contractors, architectural, and ergonomic/accessible design consultants to plan for and adjust to new requirements.
January 1, 2016, requirements
Your work to achieve accessibility is not done yet. So during 2015, obligated organization depending on their size will need to work on the following requirements that are due for completion on January 1, 2016.
- Small organizations must provide training on the requirements of the accessibility standards referred to in the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities to all employees and volunteers; all persons who participate in developing the organization’s policies; and all other persons who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization. The training on the requirements of the accessibility standards and on the Code must be appropriate to the duties of the employees, volunteers and other persons.
- Small organizations must ensure that any processes currently in place for receiving and responding to feedback (questionnaires, surveys, etcetera) are accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communications, upon request. These organizations must also notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports.
- Large organizations must, upon request, provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for persons with disabilities in a timely manner that takes into account the person’s accessibility needs due to disability and at a cost that is no more than the regular cost charged to other persons. The obligated organization must consult with the person making the request in determining the suitability of an accessible format or communication support. Moreover, every obligated organization must notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports.
- Large organizations will have to comply with the requirements set out in Part III, Employment Standards, of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. The standards in this Part apply in respect of employees and do not apply in respect of volunteers and other non-paid individuals. This portion of the regulation contains several requirements involving revamping existing human resources practices to explicitly consider and respond to accessibility issues in the workplace relating to, for example, recruitment, accommodation, performance management, career development and return-to-work processes.
Organizations are cautioned to comply with AODA and its regulations as significant penalties can be imposed for non-compliance.