December 2, 2011
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
A new provincial policy that outlines standards for better customer service to people with disabilities is rolling out Jan.
1. The Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario is trying to make sure its members are up to speed on how to comply.
The Accessibility Standard for Customer Service is part of regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with
Disabilities Act. It applies to all organizations (public, private and non-profit) that provide goods or services directly to
the public or to other organizations in Ontario, and that have one or more employees in the province.
It requires that organizations have a plan for training employees on providing goods and services to people with
disabilities. And it’s not about ramps or automatic door openers.
“The customer service standard is about being prepared to deal with customers who are in different circumstances — it’s not
about things covered by other policies like the structure of the building,” says Vince Brescia, president and chief executive
officer at the federation ( www.frpo.org).
It’s about understanding that people may have different needs. That can mean simply training a concierge to say, “How can I
help?” and making small changes to how customers with disabilities are served.
“It’s a new challenge but not necessarily onerous; it’s something new for them to learn and we’re prepared to learn and
comply,” Brescia says.
There are potential penalties for not doing so. To help kick-start the education process for its members, the federation
recently provided a webinar to members to help get them get up to speed on the requirements. “We had good attendance and huge
take-up on the forms and policy guide we’ve created.”
The federation is also holding half-day education sessions on the customer service standard, Nov. 23 and 25 in Toronto, which
will focus on the requirements and how to effectively provide customer service to residents or tenants with a disability.
The goal is not only to improve service now, but also to prepare for the future, when the aging population begins to
experience greater challenges. According to the ministry, one in seven Ontarians face barriers to accessing jobs, goods,
services, education and community and social activities because of disabilities. That will increase to one in five Ontarians
within 20 years.
Baby boomers represent 40 per cent of the income share in Ontario, and as they age it is expected that they will drive
government to meet their needs and demands.
Rental housing providers and property managers will no doubt be one of many sectors that will need staff equipped to help
individuals in their buildings who have accessibility issues.
“We’ve developed some template policies our members can put in place to help them get ready,” says Brescia. “We’ve
recommended they get those and adapt them to their own circumstances as they see fit. We’re also recommending the appropriate
staff get training, so we’re putting on a couple of training sessions for people in the industry so they can get their staff
trained and ready for Jan. 1.”
According to the guidelines, if an organization has fewer than 20 employees it must create a plan or policy that says it will
become prepared to address accessibility for individuals with disabilities, and they must train employees about how that will
be done. If an organization has 20 or more employees, it must have a written policy and produce an annual report indicating
how it is progressing or meeting the policy.
“There are definitely new administrative requirements, so there is a new cost from that perspective,” says Brescia.
The accessibility policy includes a plan for communicating with persons with disabilities and a plan for ensuring employees
are trained and familiar with the different types of assistive devices people may use. They must also understand the role of
service animals and have a plan for how to deal with them. There is also a requirement to have a plan for dealing with
For property managers and building owners, this means knowing how they’ll communicate with residents in the case of, for
example, a service outage or other malfunction.
“So if someone is blind and has someone with them to guide them, or if someone is deaf or mute and they have someone speak on
their behalf — you have to have a communications plan if there are interruptions in service or accessibility and you have to
have a feedback process in place, ways to get feedback from people that accommodate their types of disabilities,” explains
The federation has developed a detailed policy guide for members.
“The ministry has useful information that is generic, but not specific to the industry,” Brescia explains.
Details are available at www.frpo.org and www.mcss.gov.on.ca.