by Yosie Saint-Cyr
The Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure has proposed changes to the Customer Service Standard and Integrated Accessibility Standards regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). If approved, the changes will be enacted on July 1, 2016, and take immediate effect.
This proposal includes incorporating the Customer Service Standard into the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and making changes to requirements of the Customer Service Standard (see details below).
As a result, O. Reg. 429/07 Accessibility Standards for Customer Service and O. Reg. 430/07 Exemption from Reporting Requirements would be revoked since the substantive content of these regulations would now be incorporated into the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR).
In addition, the proposal recommends technical/administrative changes to the IASR to clarify some of the requirements and make it easier for organizations to implement them.
Proposed customer service standard changes include:
- The types and definitions of obligated organizations under the Customer Service Standard will be matched with those of other accessibility standards (i.e., information and communication, employment, transportation, built environment for public spaces). This means the definitions under the Customer Service Standard of designated public sector organization, provider of goods and services, and private and not-for-profit organizations defined as having between 119 employees (small) or 20 or more employees (large), would be removed and replaced with the definitions under the other accessibility standards, as follows:
- Designated public sector organization
- Government of Ontario
- Large designated public sector organization
- Large organization (private and not-for-profit organizations with 50+ employees)
- Legislative assembly
- Small designated public sector organization
- Small organization (private and not-for-profit organizations with 1 to 49 employees)
This also means that all references to a “provider” of goods and services will be replaced with “obligated organization” to match the other accessibility standards.
- The term “facilities” will be included throughout the Customer Service Standard where there are currently references to “goods and services.” It will now say “goods, services and facilities”). As noted in the proposal, “facilities” refers to services in buildings or premises that are offered for use to members of the public or third parties (e.g. stadium, banquet hall). It does not refer to the structure or physical features of the built environment which are covered by the building code.
- Requirements under the Customer Service Standard that currently apply to organizations with 20 or more employees would now apply to organizations with 50 or more employees.
- Currently, the Customer Service Standard establishes different requirements for private and not-for-profit organizations based on the number of employees: organizations with 119 employees are small; those with 20 or more employees are large. Under the proposal, these classes would be changed to match the other accessibility standards, as follows
- Small private and not-for-profit organizations would be defined as having between 149 employees
- Large private and not-for-profit organizations would be defined as having 50 or more employees
This means organizations with 2049 employees would continue to be required to establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to people with disabilities (as required under Section 3 of the Customer Service Standard). However, these organizations would no longer be required to prepare one or more documents describing their policies, practices and procedures or to provide these documents upon request (as currently required under Section 3.5).
Proposed changes regarding class structure would be reflected in the requirements for private and not-for profit organizations under the following sections of the Customer Service Standard:
- Establishment of policies, practices and procedures
- Service animals
- Support persons
- Notice of temporary disruptions
- Feedback process
- Notice of availability of documents
- Where practical and applicable, compliance dates under the Customer Service Standard would align with the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation with provision of a grace period, if required. These changes are intended to ensure that organizations have sufficient time to understand and comply with the revised Customer Service Standard.
- References to “policies, practices and procedures” throughout the Customer Service Standard will be changed to match the term “policies” in the other accessibility standards. This change will align to language and terminology across all accessibility standards, reduce inconsistencies and simplify requirements.
- The definition of service animal will be changed. An animal would be defined as a service animal if:
- The person provides third-party certification that their service animal has been trained to provide assistance that relates to that person’s disability; or
- It is readily identifiable that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to their disability;
- The person provides documentation from a regulated health professional confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to their disability.
This change would enhance the method used to prove that the animal is trained to be a service animal and is not a pet. It also allows the service animal to be recognized through indicators or visual cues such as a vest or harness, without staff having to ask for a document from a health professional. The change would also expand the range of people who can provide documentation confirming a person’s requirement for a service animal to any “regulated health professionals” from the more specific “physician or nurse.” Furthermore, it changes the term “letter” to “documentation” to be more inclusive of the types of documents that a health professional may provide (e.g., form, template or letter).
- Additional language is proposed to clarify when an organization may require a support person to accompany a person with a disability for reasons of health and safety, as follows:
- This would only occur where, after consultation with the person with a disability, requiring a support person is the only means to allow the person to be on the premises and at the same time fulfil the provider’s obligation to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability and that of others (i.e., the health and safety risk cannot be eliminated or reduced by other means); and
- Any considerations on protecting health and safety must be based on specific evidence and not on assumptions.
- Regarding training, the proposed changes clarify who must be trained and when training must be provided to:
- All employees and volunteers
- All people who participate in developing the organization’s policies
- All other people who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization
Every person must be trained as soon as practicable. Organizations must provide training on any changes to its accessibility policies on an ongoing basis.
Regarding the customer service feedback process, it is proposed that the title of the section be changed to “Feedback Process on the Accessible Provision of Goods or Services” and to make changes to the requirements to match the language in the Information and Communications Standard, which specifies that:
Obligated organizations must ensure that their feedback process is accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports upon request.
It is further proposed that language be added to the feedback section that is similar to the language in the policies, practices and procedures section of the Customer Service Standard which states that when communicating with a person with a disability, a provider shall do so in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability. This would align language and terminology with the Information and Communications Standard, reduce inconsistencies and simplify requirements.
It is proposed that an organization be required to provide accessible formats and communication supports upon request to a person with a disability. These must be provided in a timely manner and at a cost that is no more than the regular cost charged. It is also proposed that the current provision that organizations and people with disabilities “agree upon” an accessible format be replaced with the following requirement: Organizations must consult with the person making the request to determine the suitability of an accessible format or communication support.
The ministry would like the public and interested stakeholders to provide comments on the proposed changes by December 31, 2015.
The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee developed its final proposed revisions to the Customer Service Standard after considering public feedback collected between March 3, 2014, and May 22, 2014, based on the committee’s initial proposed revisions.
It may sound like a lot of substantial changes, but I expect if they are enacted, they will make it easier for organizations to manage their accessibility obligations under the AODA standards. However, there will likely be another confusing transition period as we figure out who has to do what and by when.
To help manage the changes, the government has set a seemingly reasonable implementation date of July 1, 2016, and proposed transition periods, where appropriate. This date falls between the upcoming accessible employment standards and communications deadlines on January 1, 2016, and the following 2017 deadlines. Nonetheless, there may be little time between the enactment of these changes and the July deadline, and obligated organizations should consider reviewing their accessible customer service policies and progress soon.
I wonder what this will mean for the government’s accessibility enforcement program. One accessible customer service blitz is underway at large retailers. Will the government delay further blitzes until after any transition periods are over? We will be watching this with interest!